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The Link Between Culture and Weight Gain: Insights from African Culture


African culture is diverse, thanks to its large ethnic groups with customs and traditions. 

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In many African and Arabic countries, having a lot of weight, especially for women, is glorified. African culture associates weight gain with richness, health, strength, and fertility. 

Conversely, the Western world, like America and Europe, idolizes slim figures. In recent times, some younger generations of Africans are embracing slim body sizes and taking their fitness journey seriously. However, the perception of weight gain in African culture remains significant.

Here are some insights.

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Traditional Diets and Nutrition

African diets are often characterized by a variety of whole, unprocessed foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Traditional meals are typically balanced and nutrient-rich, providing essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. 

However, consuming starchy foods influences weight gain among Africans. Coupled with traditions, some Africans overeat intentionally to gain weight. 

In Zulu traditions, western conceptions of a thin female body are considered sickly. As a result, HIV-negative thin women deliberately eat fattening junk food to put on weight to avoid stigmatization, while HIV-positive women deliberately maintain their weight to avoid stigma. 

Also, among the Bodi tribe of Ethiopia, men drink cow blood to gain weight to attract suitors. This is a tradition passed down from generation to generation. 

Besides, young women in Mauritania are forced to feed on grains and specified foods believed to make them fat before marriage. People in this African country believe a fat woman is fat, while a skinny lady is considered ugly.

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Besides, modernization and the increase in junk food continue to influence the consumption of processed foods, sugary beverages, and high-fat snacks, contributing to weight gain and obesity.

By embracing the nutritious foods that have been a staple of African cultures for generations, a return to traditional, plant-based diets can help combat weight gain and promote overall health.

Physical Activity and Lifestyle

History records show Africans’ daily activities, such as farming, walking long distances, communal gatherings, and traditional dances, play a role in ensuring physical fitness.   

Exposure to car ownership and urbanization, among others; even driving a short distance has influenced weight gain in Africa. The situation can be improved by promoting African activities such as traditional dances and active lifestyles.

Community Celebrations

African communities emphasize communal living and strong social connections. During important events like festival celebrations, new moons, marriages, and naming ceremonies, families and communities gather to cook, eat, and celebrate. 

However, there’s a high probability such gatherings may make you eat more than you should. Leading to calorie buildup—and without exercise, could lead to weight gain. 

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In summary, African culture glorifies weight gain, especially for women, because the phenomenon is seen as a beautiful, healthy, and acceptable African practice.

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Sedi Djentuh
Sedi Djentuh
Hey, Sedi here, a content writer. She's fascinated by the interplay between people, lifestyle, relationships, tech and communication dedicated to empowering and spreading positive messages about humanity. She's an avid reader and a student of personal weekly workouts. When she's not writing, Sedi is busy advocating for plastic-free earth with her local NGO.


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