Wealthy People Get Fat? Poor People Get Fat?


  1. Wealth is said to be the cause of obesity....
  2. The case of poverty and obesity
  3. Why were they fat?
  4. Though we have become wealthy, how is the quality of our food? My thoughts

I would like to share with you an interesting story based on profound research that is also relevant to my theory. I will conclude this post with my thoughts.

 【Related article】The Combination of Thin and Overweight in the Same Poor Group Is Not Contradictory

1. Some believe that wealth is said to be the cause of obesity...

 "Ever since researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) broke the news in the mid-1990s that the epidemic was upon us, authorities have blamed it on overeating and sedentary behavior and blamed those two factors on the relative wealth of modern societies.

<In 2003>

"Improved prosperity" caused the epidemic, aided and abetted by the food and entertainment industries, as the New York University nutritionist Marion Nestle explained in the journal Science in 2003. “They turn people with expendable income into consumers of aggressively marketed foods that are high in energy but low in nutritional value, and of cars, television sets, and computers that promote sedentary behavior. Gaining weight is good for business.”

The Yale University psychologist Kelly Brownell coined the term "toxic environment" to describe the same notion. 

toxic environment

Just as the residents of Love Canal or Chernobyl lived in toxic environments that encouraged cancer growth, the rest of us, Brownell says, live in a toxic environment "that encourages overeating and physical inactivity.

"Cheeseburgers and French fries, drive-in windows and supersizes, soft drinks and candy, potato chips and cheese curls, once unusual, are as much our background as tree, grass, and clouds. Computers, video games, and televisions keep children inside and inactive,” he says.(*snip*)

▽The World Health Organization (WHO) uses the identical logic to explain the obesity epidemic worldwide, blaming it on rising incomes, urbanization, "shifts toward less physically demanding work...moves toward less physical activity...and more passive leisure pursuits."

Obesity researchers now use a quasi-scientific term to describe exactly this condition: they refer to the “obesigenic" environment in which we now live, meaning an environment that is prone to turning lean people into fat ones.[1]"

In Japan as well, this idea is widely accepted, and most experts on television explain that overeating and physical inactivity are the causes of obesity.

2. The case of poverty and obesity

However, what we have to consider here is that obesity is spreading in the poor layers of society, too.

"One piece of evidence that needs to be considered in this context, however, is the well-documented fact that being fat is associated with poverty, not prosperitycertainly in women, and often in men. The poorer we are, the fatter we're likely to be. (*snip*)

In the early 1970s, nutritionists and research-minded physicians would discuss the observations of high levels of obesity in these poor populations, and they would occasionally do so with an open mind as to the cause.(*snip*)

This was a time when obesity was still considered a problem of "malnutrition" rather than "overnutrition," as it is today.[2]

Between 1901 and 1905, two anthropologists independently studied the Pima (Native American tribe in Arizona), and both commented on how fat they were, particularly the women.
Through the 1850s, the Pima had been extraordinarily successful hunters and farmers. By the 1870s, the Pima, however, were living through what they called the “years of famine.”

When two anthropologists (Russell and Hrdlička) appeared, in the first years of the twentieth century, the tribe was still raising what crops it could but was now relying on government rations for day-to-day sustenance.

What makes this observation so remarkable is that the Pima, at the time, had just gone from being among the most affluent Native American tribes to among the poorest.

Whatever made the Pima fat, prosperity and rising incomes had nothing to do with it; rather, the opposite seemed to be the case. (*snip*)

(A quarter-century after Russell and Hrdlička visited Pima)

Two researchers from the University of Chicago studied another Native American tribe, the Sioux living on the South Dakota Crow Creek Reservation.

These Sioux lived in shacks “unfit for occupancy,” often four to eight family members per room. Many had no plumbing and no running water. Forty percent of the children lived in homes without any kind of toilets. Fifteen families, with thirty-two children among them, lived "chiefly on bread and coffee." This was poverty almost beyond our imagination today.

Yet their obesity rates were not much different from what we have today in the midst of our epidemic : 40 percent of the adult women on the reservation, more than a quarter of the men, and 10 percent of the children, according to the University of Chicago report, “would be termed distinctly fat.[3]


This combination of obesity and undernutrition existing in the same populations have been found and reported from around the world, including the West Indies, South Africa, Chile, Ghana, and Jamaica.

3. Why were they fat?

<About the case of Manhattanites, in the early 1960's>

"This was first reported in a survey of New Yorkers-midtown Manhattanites-in the early 1960s: obese women were six times more likely to be poor than rich; obese men, twice as likely. (*snip*)

Can it be possible that the obesity epidemic is caused by prosperity, so the richer we get, the fatter we get, and that obesity associates with poverty, so the poorer we are, the more likely we are to be fat?

It's not impossible. Maybe poor people don't have the peer pressure that rich people do to remain thin. Believe it or not, this has been one of the accepted explanations for this apparent paradox.

Another commonly accepted explanation for the association between obesity and poverty is that fatter women marry down in social class and so collect at the bottom rungs of the ladder; thinner women marry up.

A third is that poor people don't have the leisure time to exercise that rich people do; they don't have the money to join health clubs, and they live in neighborhoods without parks and sidewalks, so their kids don't have the opportunities to exercise and walk.

These explanations may be true, but they stretch the imagination, and the contradiction gets still more glaring the deeper we delve.[4]


<About the case of the Pima (Native American tribe in Arizona >

So why were they fat? Years of starvation are supposed to take weight off, not put it on or leave it on, as the case may be. And if the government rations were simply excessive, making the famines a thing of the past, then why would the Pima get fat on the abundant rations and not on the abundant food they'd had prior to the famines?

Hrdlička also thought that their physical inactivity was the cause of obesity because they were sedentary in comparison with what they used to be. This is what Hrdlička called “the change from their past active life to the present state of not a little indolence.” But then he couldn't explain why the women were typically the fat ones, even though the women did virtually all the hard labor in the villages—harvesting the crops, grinding the grain, even carrying the heavy burdens.

Perhaps the answer lies in the type of food being consumed, a question of quality rather than quantity. This is what Russell was suggesting when he wrote that “certain articles of their food appear to be markedly flesh producing.”

The Pima were already eating everything “that enters into the dietary of the white man,” as Hrdlička said. This might have been key. The Pima diet in 1900 had characteristics very similar to the diets many of us are eating a century later, but not in quantity, in quality.[5]"

4. Though we say we have become wealthy, how is the quality of our food? My thoughts

I want to explain my consideration based on numbers one to three.
First of all, 
when considering "obesity," isn't it too simplistic to think that obesity has increased since we have become wealthier? 

It is true that our lives are wealthier than we used to be in terms of freedom of choice and an abundance of goods.  If we have a certain income, we can do what we like and eat what we want.

However, when the income is low, we can’t spend a lot for food. Also, we don’t have enough time to eat, since many of us are so busy at work or with household chores. 

light meals for lunch

We might eat an unbalanced diet leaning toward carbohydrates (and not enough vegetables) such as eating toast and coffee for breakfast, and a burger or a cup of noodles for lunch. We might skip breakfast or lunch. 

In addition, those who gain weight easily try to eat a simple light meal or skip a meal, since they ate a lot the day before. The idea of offsetting an over-intake of calories from yesterday, eating less today, is wrong.

That is to say, even if someone is said to be wealthy, with regards to food, there are many things in common with groups that live in poverty with a high rate of obesity. As Mr. Taubes says, what is important now is the “quality” of food rather than the “quantity.”

In an extreme argument, obesity with poverty can be explained by the same mechanism that people who are on a diet end up gaining more weight after they stop dieting, even though they reduced the caloric intake.

"Not all of us get fat when we eat carbohydrates, but for those of us who do get fat, the carbohydrates are to blame; the fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.

These foods are also, almost invariably, the cheapest calories available. This is the conspicuous explanation for why the poorer we are, the fatter we're likely to be.[6]"

[1](Gary Taubes, Why We Get Fat, 2010, Pages 17-18)
[2] P. 18, 29
[3] P. 20-24
[4] P. 18-19
[5] P. 22-23
[6] P.134, 150