Countries That Can 'Afford' to Be Thin.

I think it actually was something I once heard on TV (so no cite–sorry).

You go to places like the Caribbean. And the women there are very fat. Sorry. I am not saying anything is wrong with that. They just are. And the men don’t mind.

But there is a reason for that (this TV news magazine further said). In the west, we can “afford” to be thin.

What on earth does that mean? How can a group of people afford to be thin?

I guess if I thought it over for a while, I might eventually figure it out. But for the time being, I am flustered, so I submit it to you, my fellow board members.

BTW, this might make a good question for Cecil Adams. Just insert “Dear Cecil:” at the top, and “Jim B” at the end :slight_smile: .

:slight_smile: :slight_smile: :slight_smile:

If efficient fat storage is an evolutionary survival advantage, then populations who experience feast/famine cycles will have better chance of survival if they can store fat and survive longer during famines. The west has a pretty reliable food supply that isn’t subject to fluctuations so the population doesn’t need to store fat for survival. People can afford to be thin because food is in abundance. You’re never more than a few minutes from a reliable food source.

I’m not sure the majority of Caribbean population need to be concerned about food supplies being available, in general. But there are places where natural disasters can disrupt food supply. As we’ve recently witnessed. So perhaps there is some advantage to being overweight in the Caribbean islands chain.

I always saw nations in the Caribbean as being thin. Look at a map - it doesn’t get much skinnier than Panama. :slight_smile:

The afford-to-be-thin thing probably has to do with ability to pay for/availability of fresh produce and other healthy foods, as opposed to cheap but filling calorie-dense processed foods high in carbohydrates and fat.

Plus, better-off folks often have more time and equipment (i.e. treadmills) to exercise off excess weight, and may be better educated on healthy eating habits.

Lots of exceptions to this of course, like if you can afford to eat at the Golden Corral every day and load up your plate with goodies.

It is a comment on the fact that accessing a variety of healthy foods costs money. In poorer communities there is/was a greater importance on calorie dense foods - in short getting the most calories for the dollar.

And so the many Caribbean islands where breadkind (starchy tuber vegetables) were one of the mainstays of the diet has resulted in a traditional cuisine that is not particularly healthy. Wealthier societies elsewhere might can easily pay to import other foods that are nutrient dense without being calorie laden.

Food for the poor has long emphasized calories over most other qualities. Back when everyone had to do physical work to survive, and even more so if you were too poor to hire someone else to labor for you, people burned off all those calories.

These days, even the poor do less physical labor, but the cheap foods still have a lot of calories per monetary unit cost. So they put on weight.

Really high quality foods, as ever, are costly. They have more nutrition per calorie than the lower cost foods. So the wealthy get a diet more concentrated in nutrients but fewer excess calories. They are better nourished and yet thinner at the same time.

If I had to guess, I’d put my money on them meaning working one job for 40 hours a week or less that covers all your expenses, allows you to purchase healthy food without lots of preservatives or fillers, leaves you time to cook that food, refrigeration to store perishables, and gives you time to work out.

One can say people can"afford" to be thin if it’s cheaper not to be. For many people, especially in North America, eating healthy food is more expensive than eating junk. Processed foods loaded with carbs and sugar (often subsidized corn syrup) are cheap, while fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive. Some healthy raw ingredients like whole grains and legumes can be cheap, but people may not have the free time, knowledge, or cooking facilities to prepare them. On the “calories out” side, exercise is becoming a privilege for the rich: free time is a luxury, and in a bad neighborhood, simply walking or running may be unsafe. The old principle of poor = thin while rich = fat no longer holds true, at least in North America.

Poorer and less educated people tend to have worse habits. For example, there is an inverse relationship between household income and smoking:
When you’re living an unsatisfying life because you’re poor, educated and likely have low impulse control, sugar-heavy foods are particular tempting as a way to make yourself feel good momentarily, even if it makes you feel worse over time. As you feel worse over time, those foods become even more tempting. A rough, unpredictable life also leads to a mindset of “grab all you can, while you can” which, when combined with easy availability of sugary food, increases obesity.

The idea that healthy foods are just too expensive may be true in some cases but is largely bullshit. Vegetables, nuts, eggs, fish are pretty cheap. Peanut butter will give you calories for extremely cheap. But they’re too unsatisfying to someone used to high sugar foods and instant gratification. Poor obese people could simple fast to lose the weight but someone who has an unsatisfying life, bad habits, low education and low impulse control is extremely unlikely to voluntarily fast.

Healthy foods, available near your home, that aren’t just cheap fried junk, the leisure time to spend exercising, training, grocery shopping and cooking, and the education necessary to shop, cook and exercise in a proper, healthy way are all expensive. And out of reach to the typical poor person, who might have grown up in a food desert, around the corner from a McDonald’s, and who had a mother who worked two jobs and couldn’t spend evenings cooking a variety of foods for her kids and teaching them to eat healthy and stay active.

I’m sorry, but I highly doubt that the “typical poor person” cannot find the education necessary to shop, cook, and exercise in a proper healthy way.

If people were robots, I’m sure the ‘typical poor person’ could easily find the means to eat better, but everything is a tradeoff and menial wage work is usually very tiring physically and mentally as is parenting. That the urge to ‘cheat’ and make meals out of boxes and freezer packages is harder for them to resist is something I find it hard to look down on them for. When I was busting my butt working all day on my feet as a food service lackey, I know I found it hard to have the energy to cook meals that were ‘good for me’ as well as filling. It was much easier to throw a frozen pizza in the oven and veg out in front of TV for the night and very easy to convince myself that I ‘deserved’ the treat. And I don’t have kids. I can only imagine how low-income/single parent households manage.

Seriously? Depends on what you mean by “typical” or “poor”, I guess, but I’ve known plenty of people who didn’t even have a functioning kitchen or own important cooking tools, like knives, spatulas, and pans, let alone possess the experience and knowledge of what ingredients to buy and how to prepare them.

These are people who live on microwaved meals and fast food. They are not rare at all. Is every poor person like that? No. But they are quite prevalent and probably the reason why obesity is correlated with poverty, and the source of the idea behind the OP’s quote.

Sorry, but “plenty of people you’ve known” does not make it the “typical poor person”

And knowledge of ingredients to buy and how to prepare them is readily available in the hand of almost everyone in the country.

“Available” doesn’t mean “in possession”. The combined knowledge of all humanity is “available” to anyone with an internet connection, but nobody is all-knowing.

Being able to go to a library or look up cooking videos on Youtube is no help when the nearest grocery store is an hour’s ride away by bus, you don’t own a cutting board, and you do all your shopping at the local convenience store. And your parents lived the same way, so they never taught you any different.

I mean, whether these are good excuses for not knowing how to cook for yourself and eat healthy is certainly debatable. But the OP asked a factual question about why thinness is associated with wealth and, by implication, why obesity is associated with poverty, contrary to what you might expect at first glance, and I tried to answer as best I could. If you’ve got reliable statistics to dispute what I’ve explained anecdotally, I’d like to see them. Everything I’ve read backs up my experience.

Evolution is not a factor. Evolution takes thousands, many thousands of years to reflect an organism’s response to change in environment. Nations like South Korea and Turkey and Singapore and the Gulf states have gone from abject poverty to well-fed in my lifetime, with people still living today who grew up scrounging for food in trash heaps.

I interpreter the OP to mean that the rich can afford to be selective in their daily diet, choosing high-priced alternatives that yield high nutrition without the baggage of empty calories. The bodies themselves do not change, but circumstance can. When war suddenly changes an economy from well-fed to poverty, like in Iraq and Yugoslavia, there has been no time for evolution to change bodies to a new nutritional requirement.

It could be that they didn’t mean “afford” in the monetary way, but in the risk management way.

Because there is no shortage of food in the west, we can afford to be thin. That is, we don’t need a supply of fat to get us by during times of famine.

I’e known lots of poor, fat people. They’re not fat because they can’t afford nutritional food. They’re not fat because they don’t have access to nutritional food. They’re fat because they like to eat high-calorie foods, and they like to eat large quantities of it. You can give them fresh fruits and veggies for free, and they’ll just throw it in the trash.

Strange. I thought they were fat because they lived in food deserts, don’t have cutting boards, and are somehow prevented from learning anything that their parents didn’t teach them.


Some perspective on why healthier foods tend to be more expensive.

*"A serving of raw broccoli (1 cup, chopped) costs 14 cents to grow. The same size serving of bell peppers costs 9 cents. A cup of strawberries costs 32 cents; blackberries come in at 74 cents. (I was, alas, unable to find current production costs for carrots, although it was not for lack of trying.) Keep in mind that this is the cost to grow and harvest them. They also have to be shipped and stored (and kept cold all the while), and everyone along the food chain gets a cut. By the time they get to you, they’re more expensive.

Now let’s look at commodity crops. The first ingredient in Twinkies is wheat, and a 1-ounce serving of it (enough to make a slice of bread) costs about half a cent. The fourth ingredient in Twinkies is corn syrup, and corn also rolls in at a half-cent per serving. So do lentils, although they don’t figure in Twinkies. If you go up to a whole cent, you can get an ounce of oats or a half-cup of potatoes. A penny and a half buys you an ounce of rice or peanuts. Because these crops don’t require refrigeration and have low water content (which means they weigh less), storage and shipping are much less expensive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls fruits and vegetables “specialty crops” for a reason. They’re a whole different animal from grains and legumes — a much more expensive animal. Vegetables cost at least 10 times what grains cost to grow (and that’s on a per-serving basis; look at it by calories and the difference is much larger)."*

People working 60 or more hours a week don’t have the free time to get healthy exercise. Long walks, bicycling, swimming, tennis, or going to a gym requires leisure time and the finances to buy the gear for the sport. That’s typically available in wealthier countries.

Healthy food is more expensive.