Obesity and gender differences

The WHO’s country profile for Cuba shows that the risk factors for obesity is lower for Cuban adults  than Americans, (which wasn’t a surprise) but the risk factor for females is over 14 % higher than Males, while in the US the gender difference is only 3 % (WHO 2012). Why is there a huge difference?

Health is a broad term, but although it is something universal that all people (I believe) in some way or another are concerned about, it is also something that might be different for people. Our background, environment and culture can dictate what we would consider a healthy lifestyle, or healthful actions. Sometimes the society we live in, can or does have unspoken (or even spoken) rules of what is appropriate behaviors/actions according to our sex, ethnicity, religion etc. and what is considered the “desirable” appearance. These “rules” influences our way of life, actions and behaviors and what we do to become healthier and live healthy.

After comparing the risk factor for obesity between the genders for both Cuba and the US, and seeing the gender difference being significant in Cuba, I wanted  to look up the health profile for other countries that I’ve visited. I started comparing countries where I had stayed for at least a month, so I felt I had some impression of that culture, to see if there was any explanation or links to draw between them based on my impressions and experiences.  I looked up the WHO’s health profile for these countries: Cuba, Dominican Republic, Norway, Philippines, Turkey and USA. Turkey and the Dominican Republic  had both a significantly different risk factor percentage for obesity for females and males, females having a 13 and 15 % higher risk factor for obesity than males. An ocean separate the two, so could there even be a similar explanation for these numbers, and could this explanation somehow cover Cuba as well? It might just be a complete shot in the dark and a completely subjective one.

My experience from Turkey is from working there the summer of  2012. I worked side by side with Turkish physical therapists, but I worked out in the same gym as some locals. My experience and some of my female coworkers’ experiences was that we could work out, but we were not supposed to sweat. One of my coworkers actually experienced a woman (who she knew) come up to her, waving a hand in front of her nose to gesture that she (my coworker) smelled bad because she had sweat marks on her t-shirt, at the gym . In the Dominican Republic I can’t say to have had the same experience, as the only gym I used was a hotel affiliated one, so I would assume that there were mostly tourists there, but still,  being there and working side by side with locals for three months gives you a certain impression of what the culture is like. Within culture, what I’m really aiming at is, the culturally expected behavior for the sexes, the differences between males and females and if there are strict gender roles engraved in society and amongst its people. I did get the impression that it was more accepted that males “worked out” in the Dominican Republic, that it was more readily available to them and they had more opportunities than females. I watched some organized wheelchair basketball team practices and their games. Although this was open for both men and women, only 1/20 players were female.

I hope that I can get a deeper understanding of what it means to be a female in Cuba. I wonder how they look at health and what they believe it takes to live healthy or become healthier. Do they have a  concept of  “staying in shape” like we do? Is there a different “concept” for men and women? Does gyms and fitness centers fit in to this concept? I wonder how the genders are represented in  leisure activities and sports  and if gender equality is an issue in society. Do they have different roles in areas such as home?I think these things are related and that it indirectly affects peoples’ health and obtainable health, and I dare to state that gender differences in society and expectations can greatly affect our health.

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