For reasons that we are exploring in this series, there are environmental reasons why people who live in rural settings tend to be more overweight than those living in urban settings. But there are social environmental factors as well. And I think it helps to see theses for they represent powerful barriers to change.
Would you be popular? Would you fit in? Would you be welcomed?
Probably not. I am myself getting push back from some of my friends who now think I am too skinny and who “worry” that I may be verging on anorexia!
Our need as social primates to belong is a powerful force in shaping conformity. If people in your circle are fat – then it is likely that you will become fat and stay fat too. (Article in the Washington Post)
Obesity appears to spread from one person to another like a virus or a fad, researchers reported yesterday in a first-of-its-kind study that helps explain — and could help fight — one of the nation’s biggest public health problems.
The study, involving more than 12,000 people tracked over 32 years, found that social networks play a surprisingly powerful role in determining an individual’s chances of gaining weight, transmitting an increased risk of becoming obese from wives to husbands, from brothers to brothers and from friends to friends.
The researchers found that when one spouse became obese, the other was 37 percent more likely to do so in the next two to four years, compared with other couples. If a man became obese, his brother’s risk rose by 40 percent.
The risk climbed even more sharply among friends — between 57 and 171 percent, depending on whether they considered each other mutual friends. Moreover, friends affected friends’ risk even when they lived far apart, and the influence cascaded through three degrees of separation before petering out, the researchers found.
Why is this?
I think it is because, we are intensly social and tribal. If you work in finance, you wear the suit and use the “voice”. If you wore that suit and used that voice at Tim’s on PEI, you would not fit in. I have an English Toffee Nosed Accent – very hard to lose – I will never really fit in to my PEI home. Accents are also an important tribal marker. All good politicians have to sound like the people.
In Paris a 140lb woman would be considered overweight. Not only is Paris a City with physical environments that help increase activity and eating habits that reduce sugar consumption, but Paris has a powerful social environment that punishes the over weight. If you were a 140lb woman on PEI you would be considered trim – assuming you were 5.8 – but after a few months in Paris, you would be working hard to get to 125. You would feel out of place.
So this social power is no small thing in why so many of us are over weight in rural settings like PEI.
Being heavy has become our normal. This social power not only lets us off the hook and reduces our concern personally but actively encourages us to fit in.It also makes losing the weight very hard – socially.
The new thin you is felt as an attack on your friends and family.
So – What to do?
I think first of all let’s acknowledge this power and reality. Knowing this is another reason to stop this pointless yelling at each other to “Eat Sensibly and Take More Exercise” This has not worked and cannot work.
We have to explore all the powerful reasons why most of us in rural settings are over weight.
That is what I am trying to do here.
What the social part of the equation shows us that we cannot take charge of our weight alone. Our families and friends will work to sabotage this. We have to find a place in a new community that will support us.
This is why organizations such as UFIT work so well. Maybe UFIT’s most valuable asset is not the workout but the social environment that the workout takes place in. Here is a post that explains this power.
Ideally we have to be accepted to begin a big change. We have to be with people we trust. These may often NOT be our friends and family. We then have to do a lot of new things a lot in their company. We are in effect creating new habits. Then after 2 years or so – not a short time. We will become a new person.
I doubt that any serious attempt to reduce obesity in rural settings will succeed if we don’t add in a support piece.
Your don’t believe me? See for yourself.(Disclosure I have advised UFIT)