A Different Style of Living: Why Ethiopians Lack the Obesity So Prevalent in the United States

by Hiwot Wondimu

As a native Ethiopian living in the United States, it is easy to see how vastly different my country of origin is from where I live now. Obesity is one point of comparison. I am fascinated with the obesity epidemic in America, and how prevalent an issue it is in the American consciousness. In Ethiopia, obesity is much less of an issue, if at all. Ethiopia doesn’t have as much of an issue with obesity because of the country’s ethnic makeup, religion, its economics and its social structure. For one, Ethiopians are a population of Africans whose ancestors are from hotter, dryer regions of Africa. This means that Ethiopians are generally taller, darker and leaner than Americans. Because of their ethnic heritage, Ethiopians can metabolize their food faster. This is important because genetics is the backdrop of the Ethiopian physique and health profile- though sometimes genetics offer certain populations a disadvantage; Ethiopians are at a natural advantage when it comes to combating obesity.

In Ethiopia populations are orthodox Christians. In this religion fasting is one of the biggest religious practices. There are seven fasting seasons and 214 + days in year of fasting. When it is fasting season’s animals and any type of animal product are not allowed. During this time people are consuming a lot of vegetables. Economics plays a huge role in any country when one is talking about the health and obesity of its people. There is a low availability of healthcare professionals so many Ethiopians rely on individual, natural and familial care when it comes to their own health. At the same time, unlike more developed countries like the United States, there is less fattening and unhealthy foods available to Ethiopian citizens. Though there is still unhealthy or nutritionally unsound food, Ethiopians depends less on restaurants (such as fast food chains) and high-fat foods for consumption. Ethiopians often prepare whole grains, legumes and vegetables at home.

Finally, the social element of Ethiopian life makes Ethiopians much less prone to obesity. Because there are less television and technologies available to the general Ethiopian population, Ethiopian children play together more, participating in sports and social activities that burn more calories than, say, sitting and watching television. Many of the adults seem more active in Ethiopia than they do in America, walking to places or riding bikes more than using their cars. Of course, it all depends on the person, but in general, I find this to be true. In conclusion, Ethiopians really don’t have the issue of obesity that the United States does. This is due to the genetic makeup of Ethiopian citizens, as well as social and economic factors that involve less fattening foods and more activity. I think Americans can learn a thing or two about Ethiopian culture, and become more active while at the same time eating in a more sensible way. There are many differences between Ethiopians and Americans, and obesity is most definitely one area of divergence.

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