Thursday, November 15, 2007

A little body fat time machine

african girls
In rural Africa, body fat is still very welcome for good health, under conditions that are probably similar to most time of human evolution.

In a small survey, conducted by Swedish and African researchers in Cameroon, fifteen adolescent girls have been interviewed about their food and health perceptions:

  • Rural girls want "to be fat", in order to "live" and for "health".
  • Urban girls in poor areas want "to be a little fat" in order to be "healthy" and for "beauty".
  • Urban girls in rich areas want "to be normal" in order to "have pleasure" and for "beauty".
Quite interesting. In rural areas with a traditional lifestyle, body fat obviously is seen as a vital insurance against starvation, and this has bee the case for tens of thousands of years of human evolution that once has begun down in Africa. Fat means health when food may get short. Being slim in Africa often is equal to being sick, as in the case of Aids.

When rural families migrate to big cities, they arrive in the poor areas. They come into contact with the urban lifestyle and westernized values and perceptions about female beauty. A transition takes place, the time machine runs fast, and the girls no longer want to be really fat, but they still see body fat as a good thing.

In the rich urban areas, girls adopt a western, industrialized lifestyle, they see slim models in magazines and no longer want to be fat. Health is no longer a concern. Being slim is seen as a way to be fit for parties. They know very well that rich city men, in contrast to men in the countryside, prefer slim women. I think, these girls are quite a bit better off than girls in Europe or in the United States: They are not caught in the false belief that slim means healthy.

Related post: The vital importance of body fat.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/kool_skatkat/496061515/

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