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The cultural psychology of obesity: diffusion of pathological norms from Western to East Asian societies

Wallace, Rodrick and Wallace, Deborah (2007) The cultural psychology of obesity: diffusion of pathological norms from Western to East Asian societies. [Preprint]

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Abstract

We examine the accelerating worldwide obesity epidemic using a mathematical model relating a cognitive hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis tuned by embedding cultural context to a signal of chronic, structured, psychosocial threat. The obesity epidemic emerges as a distorted physiological image of ratcheting social pathology involving massive, policy-driven, economic and social 'structural adjustment' causing increasing individual, family, and community insecurity. The resulting, broadly developmental, disorder, while stratified by expected divisions of class, ethnicity, and culture, is nonetheless relentlessly engulfing even affluent majority populations across the globe. The progression of analogous epidemics in affluent Western and East Asian socieities is particularly noteworthy since these enjoy markedly different cultural structures known to influence even such fundamental psychophysical phenomena as change blindness. Indeed, until recently population patterns of obesity were quite different for these cultures. We attribute the entrainment of East Asian societies into the obesity epidemic to the diffusion of Western socioeconomic practices whose imposed resource uncertainties and exacerbation of social and economic divisions constitute powerful threat signals. We find that individual-oriented 'therapeutic' interventions will be largely ineffective since the therapeutic process itself (e.g. relinace on drug treatments) embodies the very threats causing the epidemic.

Item Type:Preprint
Keywords:culture, deindustrialization, deurbanization, globalization, hierarchy, information theory, obesity, phase transition, social dominance
Subjects:Psychology > Cognitive Psychology
ID Code:5362
Deposited By:Wallace, Rodrick
Deposited On:19 Jan 2007
Last Modified:11 Mar 2011 08:56

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