• People Talk and My Ear Bleeds


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    Thursday, February 23, 2006

    Why are Asians so skinny?

    Actually, they aren't.  Ok, so the stereotype in America holds a lot of truth, but as this article from CNN points out, obesity rates in Japan are climbing disturbingly higher (over 24% of the total population).

    "concern is growing over eating patterns like Sayaka's. Instead of the fish, rice and miso soup of their grandparents' generation, younger Japanese are increasingly wolfing down fast food like burgers, fried chicken and instant noodles."

    This is increasingly true in Vietnam.  When I first came to Vietnam in 2004, I was surprised to find a large number of fat people in Saigon.  In fact, having spent most of my time in Hanoi, I noticed it immediately upon entering Ho Chi Minh City.  There weren't fat people in the north, but there were a whole lot of them in the south. 

    Why??  Well, first, 70% of Vietnam's GDP comes from the province of Ho Chi Minh City (the city and outlying areas).  That means people have more money to spend.  One expat remarked that fatness stemmed from living through the hard years of the 80s and 90s.  He's lived here over ten years, and saw Vietnam before it opened up trading with America, and consequently, modernized. 

    "Food is a sign of wealth," he said.  "When you have money, you can show it by feeding your children.  The fatter the child, the more money you have."

    This is invariably true.  As the wealth of Vietnamese families increases, they are buying more ice cream, more Kentucky Fried Chicken, more Lotteria (bad korean hamburgers).  What better way for a loving parent to show his/her love than to make sure his/her kids have everything they want to eat, especially since he/she did not while growing up right after the war?

    Unfortunately, culture is slow to change.  The CNN article reports that,

    "Bad diets and less exercise create what psychologists say is a vicious cycle: Fat kids are increasingly picked on at school, get depressed and find solace in eating even more."

    I know in my wife's family, the youngest child gets a healthy drubbing often of fat jokes, when in America, she would be considered healthy, but not remotely fat.  Even my wife, all 5'0" and 90 pounds of her, complains that she is fat because her stomach is not the most flat, toned stomach.

    In my english classes I hear fat jokes constantly, and have to reprimand students often for misbehaving (in teenage classes).  As Vietnam gets larger, it's teenagers do not get nicer.  I hope that Vietnam's culture of morning exercise will rally under this onslaught and counterattack strong enough to keep people healthy and not made fun of.  Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Saigon is winning this one.

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