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Body fatness standards:an international comparison

Population and Societies

504, October 2013

The body fatness of men and women varies considerably from one country to another. Diet and physical activity are important factors, but norms of body shape also play a role. Using data from an international social survey in 13 countries and 4 continents, Delphine Robineau and Thibaut de Saint Pol analyse differences in body shape ideals across the world.

The value placed on slimness varies between countries, and may be greater for one or other sex. Four groups of countries emerge: a set of mainly European countries, including France, where slimness is more highly valued for women than for men; countries such as Uruguay where the preference is for slim men and larger women; countries such as Ireland where slimness is not highly valued for either sex; and last, South Korea, where pressure to be slim is very strong for both men and women. While actual and ideal body shape are quite similar in South Korea, the situations are very contrasting by sex in most countries.

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