Saturday, June 10, 2006

Fattest people on the planet live in ... Tonga

Millionaire Moms

Fat and troubled? It's that old American influence, at least according to a pair of studies which reveal that Communists -- and former Communists -- blame Western lifestyle for weight woes and flagging self-esteem.

"Politics weighs in -- obesity dominates the former Soviet bloc," states new research from Saint Louis University's School of Public Health, which found that countries that once formed the bulk of communism are now pretty bulky themselves.

hey are, in fact, fatter than their counterparts in the West.

"I've seen many changes in Central and European Europe which I suspected could be linked to obesity," said lead investigator Borsika Rabin. "We didn't have too many McDonald's before the Soviet bloc collapse began in 1989. So I wasn't surprised by the results."

The first McDonald's opened in Moscow in 1990; there are now 103 of them around the city, with dozens of additional restaurants in Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, the Czech Republic and other locales.

Hungary, Lithuania and the Russian Federation now host the fattest populations, according to Miss Rabin, a former Hungarian who compared lifestyles and statistics in 24 countries and cites ideological change as a bad influence.

"It's possible that delayed westernization and political change could cause psychological stress," Miss Rabin said, noting that many former Communists had a hard time adapting. "Now there are more large supermarkets with cheaper foods. Now there are more fast-food restaurants and more cars."

Change, plus a nagging fear of instability, causes edgy citizens to eat. One of the most "robust" links to obesity, the study found, was public perception that governments are "corrupt or likely to be overthrown." The research was published in the current European Journal of Public Health.

A clear link between obesity and fast foods and grocery stores may not be so clear, though. The fattest people on the planet live in Tonga, according to the International Association for the Study of Obesity. Yet there are no fast-food franchises on Tonga, a kingdom of 171 islands about 1,200 miles east of Australia.

Meanwhile, depression among mainland Chinese teenagers is being blamed on the skinny ideals of the West.

"The Western ideal of a perfect figure is having a negative effect on Chinese boys and girls," states a new study from the University of Southern California.

"Thin as the ideal body type is a relatively new standard in China, a trend fueled by increased wealth and media exposure to Western lifestyle," said Dr. Bin Xie, an assistant professor of social work at the school.

His study of 7,000 Chinese students found that those who thought they were chubby and did not live up to such ideals were troubled, indeed. The girls had lower grade averages and had taken up smoking and drinking, while the boys were more prone to rudeness and losing their tempers, he said.

Dr. Xie's findings were published in Preventive Medicine, a medical journal.