Tuesday, 14 December, 2004

Immigrants get fatter the longer they're here

The Associated Press is reporting on a study that will appear in tomorrow's Journal of the American Medical Association which shows that obesity is relatively rare in the foreign born until they have lived in the United States for more than 10 years.  The AP headline reads "If You Move to America, You May Get Fat."

I haven't seen the study, but it sounds like it's reasonably good science.  Researchers studied data supplied by 32,374 participants in a 2000 national health survey.  14 percent of the participants were immigrants.  They found a clear link between obesity and numbers of years in the United States.

What I found distasteful about the article, beyond the sensationalist headline, was the tendency to characterize the problem as one of culture, rather than of personal responsibility.  The article quotes the study:

Trends in obesity among immigrants may reflect acculturation and adoption of the U.S. lifestyle, such as increased sedentary behavior and poor dietary patterns.  They may also be a response to the physical environment of the United States, with increased availability of calorically dense foods and higher reliance on labor-saving technologies.

Most of the article makes it sound like immigrants are forced to be obese, or at least not encouraged to be healthy.  Only the last paragraph of the article makes any real mention of the possibility that individuals can prevent themselves from getting fat.

I'd sure like to see one of these articles place the responsibility where it belongs.