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April 4, 2013 / JayMan

A Fat World – With a Fat Secret?

A recent article in the UK Daily Mail featured the “Weight of the World” chart made by Visual.ly. It graphically represents the average body mass index (BMI) of the inhabitants the countries of the world. In keeping with my recent series on the matter, I wanted to see what it’d look like if I turned it into a map:

World_BMI

This is the result. The colors refer to average BMI as shown, rounded up (based on data gathered from the World Health Organization, WHO). For the U.S., I’ve used the White average BMI, and I’ve drawn data for Britain from here, and Canada here.

Now with this map, I’ve got to say: come on man, has no one really ever considered that perhaps there is a genetic explanation for (at least part of) this pattern?

The average BMI numbers are roughly clustered by ethnic group. While we can see the effects of poverty and food scarcity across Africa and much of South and (perhaps) Southeast Asia, the overall pattern is fairly striking.

This can be further highlighted by the following charts. This is a chart of all the countries sorted by BMI, with their ethnoracial clustering shown:

BMI-ascending chart

We can see some clear trends. The East Asian nations cluster near the top in the low BMI category. At the other end, we can see a clear cluster made by the Anglosphere and their British progenitors. Also clustering high are many Latin American countries. The general pattern follows East Asians at the top, followed by the Eastern European countries, then the Mediterraneans, the Germanics/Scandinavians, and finally the Latin Americans and the Anglo/Celtic world. The Middle Eastern/North African nations are segregated with the more impoverished ones near the top and the oil-rich ones near the bottom.

Here the countries again, sorted by ethnoracial group:

BMI-ethnic chart

Within each group, there aren’t many wild variations and ethnic categories are fairly consistent. France seems to form a cluster with the Low Countries (and perhaps Denmark), so I’ve grouped some of them together. Interestingly, with the Scandinavian countries, it is Iceland (with its significant Celtic ancestry) and Finland (whose people are perhaps closer to their hunter-gatherer ancestors) that score highest.

It’s impossible to escape the observation that daughter countries, such as those in the New World, cluster with their ancestral countries in Europe. Despite all the alarm over rising obesity rates, perhaps the various peoples of the world are just genetically fated to pack on the pounds in a modern, calorie-rich environment.

No country illustrates this better than perhaps multi-ethnic Canada:

o-CANADA-OBESITY-MAP-1-570These maps track the variations in the obesity rates across the various Canadian provinces. As we’ve seen before, there is a distinct pattern, with the Québécois routinely being fairly light, and the Maritime and Indigenous provinces being significantly heavier. The Anglo-Germanic provinces in the center come in somewhere in between. The ethnic pattern is striking. The Maritimes are heavily Celtic in origin (particularly Scottish), and apparently take on weight like their brethren across the Atlantic. Native American groups are known for their propensity towards obesity. British Columbia, with nearly a quarter of its population being Asian, leans towards the light end.

A similar pattern is visible in the United States:

US Obesity

This is the CDC’s state-level obesity rates, broken down by race. It is clear that most of the obesity statistics that are commonly given are misleading because there are clear racial distinctions. The White obesity rate is significantly higher in the Scotch-Irish states of Greater Appalachia.

As we’ve seen before with cardiovascular disease, obesity also follows a clear pattern, one which suggests that it has genetic roots. In hindsight, it is silly anyone would not at least entertain that possibility, but as Greg Cochran so eloquently ranted recently, people refuse to acknowledge biology when it comes to humans. We know heredity is heavily responsible for differences between individuals in a group (with one’s BMI being 80% heritable, as heritable as height), and it is clearly considerably responsible for the racial differences seen above. That heredity may be responsible for differences between ethnic groups within a race, say between the English and the French, should be at least considered a distinct possibility.

This may mean that for the Anglosphere countries, with whose anti-obesity campaigns I’m most familiar, the levels of obesity seen in modern populations may be endemic and ultimately intractable.

Of course, it’s not clear that reducing obesity is even a worthwhile goal. For one, I’ve yet to see any evidence that the problems that people commonly believe that obesity leads to, such as the aforementioned cardiovascular disease and “premature” death are in fact caused by the obesity itself  (and not by say common genetic factors for both obesity and heart trouble). For one, in the course of gathering this data, I’ve found that the association between obesity and cardiovascular disease isn’t all that strong: obese people are at less than double the risk for cardiovascular mortality during the course of most studies. This is fairly weak for a wholly correlational link, and the link may in fact be weaker still, since many studies rely on people to self-report their BMI, and people tend to underreport such measures.

The other fear with obesity is that the obesity rate will continue to shoot up indefinitely, and that soon there will be no thin, able-bodied people left in the population. This of course is also patently silly. Not only is the increase in the obesity rate plateauing in the developed world, there is no reason to expect that it would do anything different. Unless the environment continues to change in the relevant ways, at some point, everyone genetically susceptible to becoming obese will do so, leaving the rest of the population as thin as ever.

All this runs squarely against the hopes and aims of those who wish to propagate a “fat-shaming” campaign with the goal of getting people to lose weight. While genetics are at play in generating individual and group differences, obesity has indeed changed over time. This is apparently due to unclear environmental changes over this time, probably broadly related to increased food availability and decreased physical activity (of course, in exactly how this has happened is still far from clear). Proponents of “fat shaming” think that by ridiculing or otherwise pressuring overweight people, they can get them to make behavioral changes that get them to lose weight; as if it was that simple. Needless to say, not only this idea unproven, all evidence lies squarely against the broad effectiveness of dieting strategies. Even low-carb & “paleo” diets can’t be all that helpful for most people, for if they were, the obesity “problem” would have been tackled by now.

20134363013202734_20Rikishi001In that vein, interestingly, as I was gathering evidence for this post, the announcement came that Samoa Airlines was to begin charging its passengers by weight. This is move long called for by many as a great move in the spirit of fat shaming. Now, the Samoans are no small people, with body types such the one shown being quite common among them. And yet, all that extra weight seems not to impact them as much as one might think, as evidenced from their cardiovascular mortality rate, which is comparable to that of the U.S.

Indeed, the link between cardiovascular mortality and obesity between groups worldwide seems quite questionable.

I think that serious attention needs to be paid to genetic factors in investigating variation in obesity around the world, perhaps for resolving mysteries like the “French Paradox“. Of course, there are caveats in the data I’ve presented here. I have no idea how the WHO gathered this data, so I can’t vouch for its accuracy. As well, BMI is an imperfect measure of fatness, since there is a great variation in the typical builds of different peoples across the world. Hence, these numbers need to be taken for what they’re worth. And clearly, heredity isn’t the whole story, as there are marked differences between say France and Quebec in terms of obesity and cardiovascular death rates (11.3% and 40/100,000 vs 21% and 191/100,000, respectively). And genetic factors include not only physiological ones, but things like taste response and behavioral factors as well. Indeed, a critic might level that the observed ethnoracial associations don’t represent heritable physiological or even behavioral factors, but shared dietary customs. Perhaps that’s so, but I think the connections are too strong to dismiss, especially given the role heredity is known the play in individual differences in obesity. In any case, more research is needed, and to quote Simon Baron Cohen, “don’t forget about biology.”

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58 Comments

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  1. bhardwazbhardwaz / Apr 4 2013 7:52 AM

    Good Analysis !

  2. Staffan / Apr 4 2013 11:59 AM

    There are so many variables in play here. One thing that struck me is how the western hemisphere is heavier than the eastern. That part of the world are recent immigrants, perhaps more impulsive than the ones that decided to stay home rather than take a chance?

    Impulsivity may also be part of the racial divide, Black people being more so than Whites. But that’s anathema for researchers.

    Even closely related ethnic groups differ in behavior. For instance, the Danes are much more pleasure-seeking than the Swedes, no one (except possibly a social “scientist”) would contest that.

    • JayMan / Apr 4 2013 12:24 PM

      There are so many variables in play here. One thing that struck me is how the western hemisphere is heavier than the eastern. That part of the world are recent immigrants, perhaps more impulsive than the ones that decided to stay home rather than take a chance?

      Perhaps. There is likely some element of that. But the biggest difference probably stems from the fact that the New World is dominated by a few large ethnoracial groups, that is, Anglo-Celts and Indigenous Americans, two groups who are apparently highly vulnerable to weight gain in today’s world. This probably explains the bulk of the difference.

      Impulsivity may also be part of the racial divide, Black people being more so than Whites. But that’s anathema for researchers.

      Almost certainly. While there’s just impulsivity in general, impulsivity with regard to food specifically (i.e. cravings) are adaptions stemming from dietary history; if you come from a place where calorie-dense food was historically hard to get, you’re likely to crave them more than someone with a different evolutionary history.

      Even closely related ethnic groups differ in behavior. For instance, the Danes are much more pleasure-seeking than the Swedes, no one (except possibly a social “scientist”) would contest that.

      Yes, fine differences in genetics can sometimes make for large differences in results.

    • Matt / Apr 11 2013 4:28 PM

      Not many North Americans are “recent immigrants”.

  3. mm2003 / Apr 4 2013 12:17 PM

    If it’s genetic, then why did everyone in the U.S. and in European countries have far lower BMI’s up until about 1980? There’s clearly been an environmental change, people’s genes don’t suddenly alter over the course of 30 years. We started eating like shit so we started looking like shit.

    • JayMan / Apr 4 2013 12:26 PM

      If it’s genetic, then why did everyone in the U.S. and in European countries have far lower BMI’s up until about 1980? There’s clearly been an environmental change

      You don’t say, buddy? (I sure did.)

      Why does it seem that it doesn’t matter how many times I say certain things?

    • Staticnoise / Apr 10 2013 1:06 PM

      1980s – about the time the anti-fat campaign began. Low fat this, low fat that and a reliance on carbs for calories. What a colossal mistake.

    • lavazza1891 / Apr 15 2013 5:52 AM

      Staticnoise: But there has not been much change in people’s diet during these 30 years. Maximum 2-3 E% more of carbs.

    • JayMan / Apr 15 2013 8:24 AM

      Source?

    • RaceRealist / Feb 29 2016 7:53 PM

      @Staticnoise:

      The push to demonize fat as bad and carbs as good happened in the 50s.

  4. Skittles the dancing wallaby / Apr 4 2013 2:36 PM

    Interesting analysis but it is hard to know what to think as there are several major genetic factors to consider.

    a) Impulse control – Can you resist horrifying American corn based junk food and eat healthier foods instead? Some people can, especially if they are rich and they have lots of other fun stuff to do.

    b) Metabolic tolerance for junk food – How fat do you get if you eat horrifying American corn based junk food?

    Sub factors:

    -Can you efficiently metabolize this junk and turn Cheetos and grape soda into lean muscle? Some people can, at least for a while.

    – Can your body regulate your hunger levels so that you only eat small amounts of this junk? Or will you get stuck in an insulin loop where you eat junk, spike your insulin, get hungry, eat more junk, spike your insulin, eat more junk, etc.

    I’ve known several people who eat the most horrifying junk food based diets you can imagine, yet are thin or muscular and seemingly healthy.

    Moving on, the comparison gets even more complicated when you are dealing with countries that maintain more traditional diets that aren’t based on junk food.

    Do the same genetic factors regulate weight in America, Japan and Somalia?

    Maybe being thin in American requires a) good impulse control or b) a freakish metabolism.

    Maybe being thin in Japan only requires moderate impulse control and a level of willingness to conform to social standards. Less impulse control would be required because the food is inherently much less fattening. In America there are many places where the available restaurants only serve fattening junk food (subs, pizza, wings), so you basically have to have the discipline to not eat out. But in Japan the food is more traditional and less inherently fattening, so you can still go out to eat and remain thin. You just need enough impulse control to avoid gorging on ice cream and stuff.

    Maybe being thin in Somalia (or certain other poor parts of the world) is a default condition, unless you happen to be wealthy enough to afford lots of rich food and undisciplined enough to gorge on it (rare-ish combo). If you’re poor and you have low impulse control you may still be thin as you indulge in other vices, since pints of Ben and Jerry’s just aren’t affordable.

    • JayMan / Apr 4 2013 2:41 PM

      All very valid points. You describe something that’s likely very close to the reality.

      “Genetics” is a very big umbrella. I can’t claim to know which heritable factors make the difference, as it’s likely very many, and these factors probably differ for different groups. I just wish someone was looking into this subject with this knowledge in mind.

  5. breviosity / Apr 4 2013 3:13 PM

    Another twist is that there’s quite a bit of variation among countries in male vs female average BMI. In UK, the two sexes are about the same. In Jamaica, men are about 25 mean BMI and women about 30. A huge (ahem!) difference. Also, in most places women have higher BMI, but in a few (eg Japan) men do.
    Daily Mail did a nice graphic here
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2301172/Fattest-countries-world-revealed-Extraordinary-graphic-charts-average-body-mass-index-men-women-country-surprising-results.html
    Any thoughts?
    Also, can I suggest myopia for a future Jayman treatment: ethnic variation, heritability, intelligence – its got the lot!

  6. chrisdavies09 / Apr 4 2013 3:23 PM

    On Pubmed I found an old paper referring to a study which found a link between presence of the HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) allele A*30 in human populations, and increased risk of obesity. I don’t know if any other more recent studies have found links with the other HLA alleles or not.

    HLA associations with obesity.
    Fabsitz RR, Nam JM, Gart J, Stunkard A, Price RA, Wilson PW.
    Source

    National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Bethesda, Md.
    Abstract

    A subgroup of 351 subjects with human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing were available from the Framingham Heart Study for analyses to identify associations with obesity. The subjects consisted of 143 males and 208 females aged 58-88 years at the 15th biennial examination in 1978. The obese classification was based on maximum body mass index (BMI) over the 16 available biennial examinations of the Framingham Heart Study. The subjects were classified as obese if they exceeded the 95th percentile of BMI for 20- to 29-year-old subjects as described in the NHANES II study; males were obese if BMI greater than 31.1 and females were obese if BMI greater than 32.3. There were 27 obese males (18.9%) and 44 obese females (21.2%) in the sample. Gene frequencies were compared between the nonobese and obese groups for the pooled sample as well as by sex. Among alleles previously shown to be related to obesity, HLA Bw35 appeared to be more frequent in obese females but these data did not confirm a difference for the B18 or Cw4 alleles. More importantly, HLA Aw30 was found to be significantly higher among the obese subjects in both males and females. Further analyses adjusting for potential confounding variables reduced the estimated relative risk for obesity for subjects with the Bw35 allele to approximately 1.30 and no longer significant for this sample size. In contrast, the relative risk for Aw30, while reduced, remained significant after adjustment for confounding variables. Based on these data, individuals with the Aw30 allele have a relative risk of 2.61 for obesity.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

    PMID:
    2591979
    [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

    For frequency of HLA A*30 allele in world populations and additional information, see:-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HLA-A30

    Chris.

  7. Ed the Department Head / Apr 4 2013 4:38 PM

    This is very good. I find it disturbing that people who recognize individual and group genetic differences in crime, sexual habits, intelligence, oftentimes deny that weight is almost certainly largely genetically preordained as well given a modern environment. Also, until recently, we had a good many more smokers and this certainly played a role in holding back many of the natural physiological tendencies of endomorphs.

  8. Paleo Retiree / Apr 4 2013 10:12 PM

    Fun posting.

    I think the environment you live in (family, friends, workplace, town, etc) plays a big role. People tend to go along with everyone else, you know?

    Anecdotal, I know, but what the heck. I recently attended a funeral for an Asian-American guy who’d died aged 98 and got to observe four generations of his relatives. The older ones: short and thin, like creatures out of a ’50s Japanese movie. The younger ones: much taller, and quite pudgy, like creatures out of Idiocracy. Nice people and probably smarter than I am, but most of them were pretty tubby.

    I don’t know what to make of the “shaming” option. Cultural reinforcement, though, I can guarantee counts for a lot. When I was an American exchange student in France, for example, it was common for the American girls to pack on some pounds — all those delicious bakeries were hard to resist. When that happened, French friends and/or their French “families” (the families they lived with) would pull them aside and insist, in quite a steely — indeed shaming — way that the time had come to lose the pudge. And the girls did. They conformed pronto to the combo of shaming and local social norms. Another example: i live in Manhattan, where most people are slimmish, but once spent a few months in St Louis where people seem to run 40-60 pounds heavier. Easiest thing in the world to start conforming to those expectations — my wife and I both put on 20 pounds and still passed as skinny. Then we got back to Manhattan … and quickly took the extra pounds off.

    More anecdotal evidence: Have you spent time in hospitals recently? I went thru a stretch 10ish years ago when I was in the hospital a lot. I was amazed by the high percentage of patients in the hospital who were obese. Obesity is clearly hard on the back, the hips, the knees … They tend to be diabetic and need pacemakers … I suspect obesity is a biggish factor in health-care costs. And doctors have told me that if people simply quit smoking, quit drinking soda pop, and kept themselves from growing obese, hospitals would have half the patients they currently do.

    • JayMan / Apr 4 2013 10:39 PM

      Fun posting.

      Thanks! 🙂

      I think the environment you live in (family, friends, workplace, town, etc) plays a big role.

      Well, we can safely scratch one of those environments off the list; behavioral genetic evidence clearly shows that family has no effect on obesity (other than through heredity). 🙂

      As for peers and associates, you run into Judith Rich Harris’s problem: do your peers influence you, or is it that birds of a feather flock together? I suspect more of the latter.

      Another example: i live in Manhattan, where most people are slimmish, but once spent a few months in St Louis where people seem to run 40-60 pounds heavier. Easiest thing in the world to start conforming to those expectations — my wife and I both put on 20 pounds and still passed as skinny. Then we got back to Manhattan … and quickly took the extra pounds off.

      Like with the previous case, I suspect the urban effect is more about sorting than it is about influence. Overweight people are indeed “shamed” in a manner of speaking in cities, especially very dense ones, because of tight spaces, crowds, and the fact that cities, especially one like New York City, require a lot more physical activity. Such people likely tend to avoid cities if they can. Hence, the people who “fit” (literally and figuratively) are more biased to remain in cities.

      More anecdotal evidence: Have you spent time in hospitals recently? I went thru a stretch 10ish years ago when I was in the hospital a lot. I was amazed by the high percentage of patients in the hospital who were obese. Obesity is clearly hard on the back, the hips, the knees

      Well, like most all anecdotes, this suffers from selection bias. Are you seeing a representative cross section of overweight and obese people in those hospitals or are you seeing the sick ones (as is the case with the thin people you see there)?

      They tend to be diabetic and need pacemakers … I suspect obesity is a biggish factor in health-care costs.

      I suspect that genetic load, unnaturally extended lifespans (i.e., people alive who would have been dead in ages past – cancer patients are a good example), and maladaption to today’s environment (of which obesity is one example) are responsible for the lion’s share of healthcare costs.

      And doctors have told me that if people simply quit smoking, quit drinking soda pop, and kept themselves from growing obese, hospitals would have half the patients they currently do.

      And if people grew gills, we’d have so much less drowning. Hopefully you see the point. 😉 As we’ve seen from this series of posts on my blog, doctors don’t know quite as much as they think they do (smoking I’ll grant). It’s unclear keeping weight off would, by itself, render people healthier (and indeed, I suspect it’s unlikely).

      As for the shaming idea, even if it was effective (and I doubt it would be) shaming as the “fat shamers” want do to is in my opinion unethical. A certain amount of shame is necessary for a healthy society, as you’ve pointed out, but as this post should make clear, it’s unclear that obesity is caused by insufficient social disapproval, and it’s unclear that remedying it would actually solve anything.

    • RaceRealist / Jul 26 2016 6:40 PM

      JayMan,

      I really love this post. It’s a great read. By reading your posts on obesity you’ve led me to research this more and the new research is very interesting.

      As for the shaming idea, even if it was effective (and I doubt it would be) shaming as the “fat shamers” want do to is in my opinion unethical. A certain amount of shame is necessary for a healthy society, as you’ve pointed out, but as this post should make clear, it’s unclear that obesity is caused by insufficient social disapproval, and it’s unclear that remedying it would actually solve anything.

      It doesn’t work at all. Contrary to what Milo’s article said last week about fat shaming working, it doesn’t and it makes the problem worse.

      https://notpoliticallycorrect.me/2016/07/06/science-proves-it-fat-shaming-doesnt-work/

      There is a ton of data out there that fat shaming leads to the reverse of what the fat shamers want to occur.

      Also, have you heard of the new gut microbia study?

      Mice who had the same three kinds of gut bacteria we have ate less and gained more weight. For instance, germ free mice ate 29 percent more food, but had 42 percent less body fat than similar mice who were raised normally. When fed a high carb diet, the mice with no gut microbia ate as much as the normal mice, but gained less weight. Conversely, when those same germ-free mice receive a gut transplant, they eat 27 percent less food, the same as the normal mouse, but their body weight increased by 60 percent in two weeks.

      Also, mice that are obese because they can’t make leptin have 50 percent fewer Bacteroidete and 50 percent more Firmicutes compared to their thin counterparts. Similar patterns are seen in mice that eat high fat/high carb diets as well as in obese people. When germ-free mice are transplanted with gut microbia from an obese mouse or an obese person, they gained twice as much weight as when the bacteria came from a lean mouse.

      This research is pretty amazing and will lead to, in my opinion, diets tailored to the person based on what guy microbia is present in their body.

      I read Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata (a book I saw someone here recommend and my mind was blown). It’s a great read and I love Kolata’s style.

      I picked up “Why Diets Make Us Fat” by Sandra Aamodt last week which just came out last month. She’s a neuroscientist and talks about obesity’s effect on the brain. I finished it in 5 days, the studies cited are great.

  9. Ed the Department Head / Apr 5 2013 9:24 AM

    While I won’t pretend like this woman that fat is pretty I do think a lot of what she is saying here is right: http://kateharding.net/faq/but-dont-you-realize-fat-is-unhealthy/ . Even a fat person with a determined will to not eat as much delicious modern food as your average mesomorph is not going to lose sufficient weight to be BMI correct. A naturally fat person would have to go on a low calorie diet and then stay on it forever.

    I think this happens for a while with some strong willed people but the reason why virtually no fat person stays thin for more then 10 years is because no one is going to violate their innate programming forever and turn down the tasty foods they crave. It is honestly akin to trying to shame someone into not wanting sex. If they are getting offers or see an opportunity, something is going to give.

    New York Times Science journalist Gina Kolata has a book called Rethinking Thin that shows that science has thought, as far back as the 1940s, that there was probably a natural propensity in fat people to put on weight (and a natural propensity for skinniness among ectomorphs). But people, including some scientists and many doctors don’t want to believe the evidence. They act like egalitarians refusing to believe they can’t socially engineer thin people out of fat people. Those who doubt a genetic component to weight gain need to review the evidence in Kolata’s book first.

    • JayMan / Apr 5 2013 9:37 AM

      Precisely. It would actually be an extra hardship – an unsustainable one – for a person with a natural propensity to become overweight in today’s world to take steps (assuming that there were steps that one can reliably take to be successful, which isn’t all that clear) to remain thin. Why should they engage in this to satisfy the whims of those who don’t want to see obese people?

      The only answer I can think of comes from a curiosity standpoint: if people could be thinner, would they be healthier? So far it doesn’t seem to work for Eastern Europeans…

    • ballomar / May 21 2013 12:42 AM

      The problem with making general conclusions about East Europeans is that you have the legacy of Communism. I know post-Communist Europe fairly well, and the food quality in many places is very low, even today in 2013. Food is often cheap – to be commensurate with low incomes – but it is also processed junk. During Communism quality food wasn’t available.
      So the distinctions between western and eastern Europe, especially between western Germany and the former DDR can be explained by this.

    • JayMan / May 21 2013 8:35 AM

      If the available food in EE is processed junk, and they still manage to stay thin, then that suggests that something else is going on. That something else could be genetics, or it could be their high rate of smoking, or both.

  10. AK / Apr 7 2013 11:15 PM

    North Korea!

  11. Misophile / Apr 12 2013 1:24 AM

    With obesity “health” is really just a respectable smokescreen for a concern over looks, and being honest about that should not be seen as so terribly rude. Granted, it’s bad for your joints, it’s difficult to carry around, etc. (Apparently, having big bones is bad for your bones!)

    On a related note, shame WORKS. I caught some news program (genuinely not an infomercial) about a woman who lost some 200 pounds in I don’t know how short a time, and what pushed her to lose that weight was her kids’ refusal to be picked up from school by her subplanetary ass. She really was on the thin side at the time of the interview.

    • JayMan / Apr 12 2013 8:42 AM

      With obesity “health” is really just a respectable smokescreen for a concern over looks, and being honest about that should not be seen as so terribly rude.

      Unfortunately, it never comes out that way, prompting overreactions like this.

      On a related note, shame WORKS. I caught some news program (genuinely not an infomercial) about a woman who lost some 200 pounds in I don’t know how short a time, and what pushed her to lose that weight was her kids’ refusal to be picked up from school by her subplanetary ass. She really was on the thin side at the time of the interview.

      Lovely “manwho” (womanwho) statistic…

    • Misophile / Apr 12 2013 8:42 PM

      Looks trumps health as a personal motivation to lose weight in all but extreme cases. And second, I was just relating an amusing anecdote, not constructing a watertight argument. Anyway…

  12. Kovrins_Monk / May 24 2013 12:56 AM

    Fascinating. One thing you may not have accounted for is the effect of age. Europeans are probably older than white Americans, so even though their average BMIs may be similar the fact that young Americans are as heavy as old Europeans may be significant. Running some statistical program to correct for the difference in age may be helpful.

  13. Travis / Jun 4 2013 5:47 PM

    When I am lazy and regularly eat junk food for an extended period of time, I balloon up to 185 lbs.

    When I eat a healthy diet with zero junk and get a little exercise every day, I easily maintain at 150.

    From reading this article, I conclude that I must be an exceptional human being — one of the few people on earth whose diet and exercise habits have a direct effect on his weight. One of the lucky ones, I guess.

    • JayMan / Jun 4 2013 6:03 PM

      Actually, I have to conclude that you’re all too typical…

    • Elly / Feb 19 2014 5:15 PM

      I’m sure you appreciate what a small fluctuation that is, given that some people weigh 600 lbs.

  14. Sara / Jul 4 2013 1:16 PM

    BMI is a useful tool, but still a very flawed one. It is probably easier for a overweight, but small framed East Asian to achieve a “healthy” bmi than it is for a medium weight and large framed Anglo Saxon. I am a fairly large framed woman of mostly English extraction and at my very, very thinnest (the point where people are making worried noises about my weight), I am a 23.5 bmi. In the normal range, but nowhere near the bmi number that I visually appear. If I gain just 15 pounds from that visibly very thin weight, I am at 26 bmi or “overweight”. I surmise that, to some extent, the high bmi of Anglo countries reflects that tendency toward broad, heavy frames.

    • JayMan / Jul 4 2013 1:29 PM

      Indeed, a good possibility.

    • Anonymous / Mar 29 2015 10:31 AM

      I agree that the BMI is flawed and is not the best measure for weight or height. It is not accurate in determining obesity. As stated by http://healthland.time.com/2013/08/26/why-bmi-isnt-the-best-measure-for-weight-or-health/ , the BMI cannot distinguish between fat and muscle. So a person with a high BMI may be a very toned person and not at all overweight. Also, according to the journal Science, data from University of Pennsylvania shows that BMI does not take into account the different types of fats, their different metabolic effects on one’s health, and where the fats are located. The belly fat, visceral fat, is more harmful to health than fat that is under the skin. Visceral fat can disrupt the body’s ability to balance its energy needs and increases the risk of health complications because this type of fat wraps around inner organs such as the liver and releases hormones. Thin people can have visceral fat, so a person with BMI in the healthy range may not be as healthy as the BMI says so.

    • JayMan / Mar 29 2015 10:48 AM

      @Another Anonymous:

      BMI is not perfect, no. But it is quite correlated with true obesity, so it works fairly well.

    • RaceRealist / Jul 26 2016 6:44 PM

      Health, as measured by BMI, is flawed and it needs revision.

      The BMI linked with the lowest risk of having died from any cause was 23.7 in the 70s, 24.6 in the 90s, and 27 from 2003-2013.

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/behindtheheadlines/news/2016-05-11-bmi-categories-may-need-adjusting-argue-researchers-/

  15. ho / Aug 25 2013 4:30 PM

    “Fat people are not to blame for eating like pigs”

    How can somebody with any shred of intelligence state such bullshit?

    How come people in europe utterly shit on Americans when it comes to being thin? How come people in the 70s were far slimmer?

  16. Anonymous / Aug 11 2014 8:03 PM

    Of COURSE the patterns cluster by ethnic groups. The country boundaries used as enumeration units are products of (artificial) ethno-political divisions.

    Geography 101…

    • JayMan / Aug 17 2014 6:19 PM

      @Anonymous:

      Some borders contain their included ethnic groups pretty well. See Europe for example.

  17. Anonymous / Mar 29 2015 5:01 AM

    There are fat-shaming campaigns released to specifically humiliate fat people, and exclude them from the excepted society. Other than that, there are also campaigns created to raise those people as well. Yet, the purpose of these types of campaign would want to help fat people to be able love themselves for who they are. However, people can take it the wrong way, and see how they do not need to change their lifestyle. Thus, I think we should not go extreme on the campaign, like humiliating them or praising them, but we should warn them about the health issue instead. I know that warning might not help as much, like the no-smoking campaign, but it is better to do something than nothing. Also, going the harsh way might destroy the person’s feelings, and rather than suffering in obesity, they might try to starve themselves ,and suffer in anorexia instead. You mentioned that the BMI is not the most accurate method of measuring fat. However, I view that it is the easiest way to be able to give an idea to people on what countries should be concerned. With that, we could start from the country that has the highest averaged BMI, and work our way down.

    Westerners are more likely to be obese, taking into consideration that fast-food suits their busy lifestyle well. Some kind of promotion about fast-food might be a good idea to get peoplt thinking about what they have been pounding in their body.

  18. Unknown / Mar 29 2015 9:15 PM

    It’s interesting to now know that obesity can be associated with genetics of ethnic groups. The data shown clearly shows that within each ethnic group, there are no big differences in the average BMI between countries, and countries within that ethic group have similar BMI. With increasing development all around the world, I agree there is increase in food availability and decreased in physical activity. By looking at diet, I would have guessed that the BMI for Asians are much less than Westerners. In Asian countries, there aren’t many fat-shaming campaigns because average people aren’t fat, but advertisements around the cities influence the ideology of people that they should be skinny. It causes an anorexia problem, which is as concerning as obesity. Although most people think obese people have several health problems, it’s surprising to know that obese people are at less than double the risk for cardiovascular mortality.

  19. Napat Asavamongkolkul / Mar 29 2015 9:40 PM

    I agree with what is being said about how the BMI varies according to different ethnic groups and genetics. An allele within the DNA within each person can greatly affect their metabolism rate and their body ability to maintain weight. The BMI can also varies between gender because men has less fat than women, which is been proven in this study (https://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=35431). As gender is determined by genetics, this show how BMI can be affected by genes as the author of this blog has said.

  20. Anonymous / Mar 30 2015 1:32 AM

    First of all, I really enjoyed reading your blog post; great analysis! There are several interesting aspects, however one that I found quite fascinating was the fact that the western hemisphere seemed to have a higher BMI as compared to the eastern hemisphere. Why is this? While reading through the blog, I kept that in mind, and thought that there might be factors in the lifestyles of people in the different hemispheres that posed significant effects on the BMI of people. One very possible factor is what people consume: food and water. The differences in food types between the western and eastern hemispheres are clear. According to Huffingtonpost, a study was done to investigate the differences in taste between Western and Asian cuisine. It was found that the harmoniousness of North American cuisine’s flavors really stems from its reliance on a few heavy-tasting products commonly associated with baked goods, especially milk, butter, cocoa, vanilla, cream, cream cheese, egg, peanut butter and strawberries. Many of these foods contain high amounts of fat, which suggest a reason to why the western hemisphere consists of a higher averaged BMI. What other significant factors could be a cause of this clear difference between the hemispheres?

    • JayMan / Mar 30 2015 7:23 PM

      Race/ancestry. That was the whole point of the post.

  21. Van / Apr 6 2015 12:31 PM

    The idea about fat as the most dangerous compound as we ingested is absolutely ludicrous. The secret of fat na the composition of BMI is not strongly correlated. Weights are often a composition of how the person ingested his/her calories each day, and the form in which it is taken in. Activities and exercises also should be understood for more information, as these will level down the importance of fat. Fat should also be considered very important as it is the basic composition of phospholipids and our membrane for the transportation of our food and oxygens. Hormones are also lipids and while concentration ind reduction of fat is emphasised to reduce weight, calories is not the only explanation fo how people gain weight, but more of what ratio of food they are eating.

  22. RaceRealist / Feb 29 2016 7:51 PM

    Great post. I always try to tell people of the genetics of obesity, especially with showing Kanazawa’s studies. I’m personally hugely interested in nutrition. I want to help cull part of this obesity epidemic in the country. To think about any and all factors involved with obesity is what we have to do. For instance, ability to delay gratification:

    http://notpoliticallycorrect.me/2015/12/20/the-marshmallow-experiment/

    I’ve also done a post on ethnicity and obesity here:

    http://notpoliticallycorrect.me/2015/12/20/ethnicity-and-obesity-rates/

    Pima Indians have a certain gene that makes them hold on to more fat, which is a hold over from a few thousand years ago. There is also this study talking about genes found for obesity in Africans, which have also been found in Europeans as well:

    http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v45/n6/full/ng.2608.html

    I also really enjoy reading your obesity posts as well as your obesity and IQ posts. Anymore coming in the future? I’m going to write a few more on the matter as this is a big topic of interest for me.

    • JayMan / Mar 1 2016 4:43 PM

      Great post.

      Thank you.

      I always try to tell people of the genetics of obesity, especially with showing Kanazawa’s studies. I’m personally hugely interested in nutrition. I want to help cull part of this obesity epidemic in the country. To think about any and all factors involved with obesity is what we have to do.

      Instead of “involved”, you mean “correlated”, yes? How many of those correlates are causal? I’m betting not many.

      I also really enjoy reading your obesity posts as well as your obesity and IQ posts. Anymore coming in the future? I’m going to write a few more on the matter as this is a big topic of interest for me.

      I do have a post in mind that will return to the topic, among other things.

  23. Anonymous / Mar 27 2016 9:35 AM

    What’s up with Argentina? Almost all of their ancestry comes from Spain and Italy, and yet they are heavier than even the Scots.

    • JayMan / Mar 27 2016 9:49 AM

      Key word being almost. “White” Argentines are about 20% Native in ancestry.

  24. Khaimook Lorwatanapongsa / Nov 11 2016 9:35 PM

    Obesity and Body Mass Index (BMI) can be influence by various factors, such as age, gender, ethnicity, and health factors. According to Figure 2, there’s a fairly strong correlation between ethnicity and BMI. For example, in Eastern Europe, the BMI of the people in that region lies between 24.1 – 27.0, whereas in Asia, the BMI of the people lies around 24.2 – 25.0. The BMI-ethnic chart indicates that the BMI can be influenced by ethnicity. BMI and obesity can also be influenced by poverty and scarcity. However, figure 2 does not show a strong relationship between these two variables. According to Figure 2, there is a wide range of BMI in the Middle East, ranging from 22.9 to 29.5. Countries like Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Algeria have a relatively low BMI compared to countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Kuwait. From the data, I was able to infer that the economic status of the countries significantly contribute to the overall BMI of the country. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait are located very close to the Red Sea and Arabian Sea, allowing these countries to trade with other countries, boosting the cashflow throughout the nations. In addition, these countries have an abundance of resources, such as oil, that can be exported, escalating the wealth of the economy. However, countries like Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, and Algeria are still considered as undeveloped countries, due to social, political, and economic issues. Due to relatively low Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in these countries, it is predictable that these countries are currently suffering in poverty.

    So, what’s the effect of poverty on BMI/obesity?

    Obesity, mostly, are caused by the overconsumption of carbohydrates and lipids. Since these countries do not have a sufficient amount of food resources, overconsumption is barely impossible, therefore, most of the people in these regions would have a below average BMI.

    Is it possible to conclude that geographical factors do actually influence BMI and obesity?

    The relationship between obesity and cardiovascular diseases are debatable due to different evidences. According to this article, the “association between obesity and cardiovascular disease isn’t all that strong”. However, it is predicted that cardiovascular diseases can be influenced by genetic factors. Firstly, the relationship between obesity and cardiovascular diseases cannot be proved as a causation, unless a controlled experiment is conducted. Scientists have been using animal clones to test the relationship between two variables. Although, using animal clones raises numerous ethical concerns, since it violates informed consent, undo stress of harm, and debriefing, but using human volunteers is much more unethical and unacceptable. Animal clones allows scientists to eliminate all the possible confounding variables that may affect the dependent variable. In humans, it is impossible to test the relationship between obesity and cardiovascular diseases because there are too many variables, such as health factors, that may affect the results. However, animal clones, such as mice, have different brain structures, body composition, DNA, and genetics compared to humans. The difference in the anatomy can raise several questions, for example …

    “Can the results obtained from animal clones be generalized to humans?”

    There are many strengths and weaknesses to the idea that obesity does not influence cardiovascular diseases. Some evidences, such as the Nurses’ Health Study, claims that as the amount of consumed increases, the percent change in cardiovascular diseases also increases as well. This clearly shows a strong positive relationship between obesity and cardiovascular diseases. However, recent researchers also disprove it and claims that there’s no relationship between these two variables. For example, according to British Heart Foundation, the graph displaying the relationship between cholesterol consumption and coronary heart diseases indicates that Finland, one of the countries with the lowest GDP have the highest death rate from heart diseases. Some of the weaknesses to these studies include confounding variables. Since these studies are not controlled experiments, confounding variables, such as health issues could have affect the results.

    Personally, I believe that obesity and BMI is influenced by one’s diet. Regarding to the understanding of fats, there are various kinds of fats: unsaturated, saturated, and trans. Unsaturated fats, such as vegetable oils (canola oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil), nuts, and seeds are good fats (HDL), which does not harm the body if consumed at an appropriate amount. However, bad fats (LDL), such as margarine, butter, meat fats, and palm oils are bad fats that get stored into the body once it is not being used by the body. Lastly, the worst type of fat of all, trans-fat, which should, at all times, be avoided. Trans fat can be identified when something is “partially hydrogenated”. The process of hydrogenation involves expanding the lifespan of the product and/or solidifying it. The reason why trans-fat are the worst types of fat is that, trans-fat reduces the level of HDL (good fats) in your body, which impedes metabolism (both anabolic and catabolic reactions). In conclusion, people should make healthy diet choices in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Fats are indeed great energy fuels and essential to the cell membrane; however, it is important that people consume the right “fats”. Furthermore, people should understand Basic Metabolic Rate (BMR), which is the minimum number of calories a person needs to intake to perform basic life functions. Also, TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). People should always be aware their BMR and TDEE in order to lose/maintain/gain their weight. For example, women should intake approximately 1600 calories per day, while men should intake approximately 2000 calories per day. If a person wants to lose weight, all they have to do is eat below their BMR, whereas, if you want to gain weight, you have to eat above your BMR. The bottom line is, it is important that you choose what you consume because “you are what you eat”.

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