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Que Gordita. By Emily Massara. top left: rice and beans, chicken, fried plantains, and empenadas Middle: gordita Right: pastel and rice with vienna sausage. Obesity and Puerto Rican Women. In Philadelphia, Puerto Rican women have a 19.4% higher incidence of obesity than Puerto Rican men

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Que gordita l.jpg

Que Gordita

By Emily Massara

top left: rice and beans, chicken, fried plantains, and empenadas

Middle: gordita

Right: pastel and rice with vienna sausage

Obesity and puerto rican women l.jpg
Obesity and Puerto Rican Women

  • In Philadelphia, Puerto Rican women have a 19.4% higher incidence of obesity than Puerto Rican men

  • Women under 25 have the lowest incidence of obesity, at 13.3%

  • Women in the 26-39 age group have an obesity incidence of 60.6%

  • Highest of all is the incidence of obesity in women between the ages of forty and eighty, at 80%

  • The causes for high levels of obesity in Puerto Rican women can be both cultural and psychological

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A Cultural Background for Obesity

  • Puerto Rican women are expected to gain weight during the early years of marriage, one reason for such an increase in obesity after women turn 26

  • Married women are expected to gain at least between fifteen and twenty pounds following marriage

  • Gaining weight in the beginning of marriage serves as a visible sign that the woman’s husband has been able to provide for her

  • In contrast to white American views on weight, overweight women in the Puerto Rican community are seen as possessing shapeliness, vitality and health

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A Cultural Background for Obesity

  • Puerto Rican women strive to be good wives and mothers, because it is culturally important to them

  • Being a good wife includes preparing generous amounts of traditional Puerto Rican foods which are high in carbohydrates and fats

  • Wives are also expected to share all meals with their husbands, such as preparing him a meal after eating out because only the wife’s cooking fills him, or eating a late dinner with her husband even if she has already dined

  • All of those factors contribute to weight gain

  • The desire to be a good mother contributes to obesity; cultural belief is that restraining from eating or not eating when and what the pregnant woman wants will jeopardize the well-being of the baby, so that pregnant women feel obligated to eat often

  • Also, women feel a need to provide for their family, and go to as great lengths for their children’s meals as they do for their husbands

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Puerto Rican Views on Obesity

  • Because there are few negative social consequences surrounding obesity in Puerto Rican culture, women can be unselfconscious about their weight

  • In addition, concern about weight and its effect on appearance do not coincide with the important self-concepts of good wife and mother

  • “Mild” and “moderate” forms of medical obesity may be aspired to by some because of the associated positive connotations of “tranquility,” health, and a lack of problems in life

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Stress and Cultural Factors

  • Pressures on Puerto Rican women, in combination with cultural factors, can lead to a more medically severe form of obesity

  • Wanting to maintain the image of good wife and mother, Puerto Rican women channel socially unacceptable feelings inward

  • It is uncommon in their culture to speak out about their negative feelings

  • Women then use unrestrained eating as a way to dodge these negative feelings, which leads to obesity

  • In these case studies, the women would most often explain their weight gain away by factors beyond their control and not because they ate too much

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  • Cultural values that include the family, sex roles, food, and health all shape the causes, significance, and effects of obesity in the Puerto Rican community

  • While all of the women in the study had weight-related illnesses, the relationship between weight and these diseases was neither socially recognized nor acknowledged

  • For some Puerto Rican women, “heaviness” is valued despite negative effects on health

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Sweet potato pie

Soul, Black Women, and Food

By Marvalene H. Hughes

Collard greens with turkey wings

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Soul, Food, and African American Women

  • This article takes a slightly different approach to cultural connections to food by adding the focus of how soul food helps to perpetuate African and African American traditions

  • The dominant figure in traditional African-American food culture is the woman

  • Meal preparation expresses her “love, nurturance, creativity, sharing, patience, economic frustration, survival, and the very core of her African heritage”

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African Traditions in Soul Food

  • Some foods have been important in African and African American cuisine for centuries

  • Sweet potatoes have been a staple food since the beginnings of African slavery

  • African slaves brought watermelon seeds, black-eyed peas and okra to North America

  • Both okra and black-eyed peas are important ingredients of soul food dishes

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Soul Food and Identity

  • Food has been used as a way to maintain African identity

  • Recipes are passed down from generation to generation in the oral African tradition

  • The kitchen serves as a place for family bonding

  • Preparing soul food for her family represents the African American woman’s ability to provide for her family

  • The resulting “plumpness” is a symbol not only of the African American woman’s ability to provide, but also represents health and prosperity

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The Importance of Soul Food

  • The ritual of eating home-cooked meals is observed, not because of economic necessity, but because it shows a commitment to preserving “soul” in food preparation

  • Soul food transcends class barriers and geography. One is likely to find similar soul food dishes at meals in the suburbs and the inner city across the US

  • Soul food also plays an important part in religious celebrations

  • The African American preacher is privileged with receiving the choicest foods, and is honored by being the first to choose his food at community meals

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The Effect of Soul Food on Health

  • Despite a causal relationship between the diet of African Americans and hypertension, Hughes notes that “diet may play a less significant role in killing Blacks than the oppressive conditions in American culture.”

  • This includes stress due to economic and personal oppression, job deprivation, and externally caused depression

  • The excessive eating of some African American women might be caused by these emotional stressors

  • Hughes’ conclusion is, short term pleasure is better than a life without any pleasure, meaning that women see little reason to cut down on their eating when it is one of the few things in life that allow them pleasure

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  • Both of these articles show how being overweight is seen in some cultures as showing economic stability and healthiness

  • The effects of cultural factors and stress on women are often health-related, such as diabetes or hypertension

  • When stress and cultural conditions are combined, women in these cultures are more likely to be severely obese

  • Because their communities valued plumpness, the women often did not attribute their diseases to overeating