Why in India fat guys have the paunch of a pregnant woman?
I've always wondered whether it was only in my head or the belly of paunchy Indians had a special shape. To put it simply, they look like pregnant women. It also happens to quite a few Indian women past their fifties (which makes me wonder every time I meet one “isn’t she too old to be pregnant?”).
With a little research I found out that it is not only in India that overweight men are more apple-shaped than pear-shaped (a female prerogative)!
Some people are more prone to accumulate visceral fat that grows deep in the abdomen and around the organs which gives the belly the apple shape. And others retain subcutaneous fat (under the skin) which often settles in the lower part of the body, including the hips and legs. (1)
And that would be genetic: it is not the same genes that are most active in abdominal fat and thigh fat, and the location of these genes depends on the solicitation of hormones during development. (2)
From there, it is quite possible that Indian males have a particular genetic issue, as they already have a genetic predisposition to have hairs in the ears (cf post). A certain Dr. Patel also claims that “in the United States, the accumulation of fat occurs in the whole body but in India it is centered around the belly”. (3)
But other factors can play in the advent of the appled Indian...
I thought for a moment about Zola and his Nana who was so beautiful because she was fat and fair skinned. Where a fat tummy would be a (ostentatious) sign of wealth of the man who got away from manual chores. But even poor guys often have a big paunch here (when they are not super skinny).
In India, it's too hot to work out! Indians are not sportive – 9 gold medals in 21 participations at the Olympics (4), it gives the tone! And don’t get me started with cricket... First many players are far from having the bodies of soccer players (see the picture of Dwayne Leverock, who did not hesitate to throw his 120 kilos to catch the ball during the 2007 World Cup (one of the only games I've watched and an action I will never forget!)). (5) Secondly most of the (adult) cricket fans prefer to play cricket German-style: watching it on TV!
I agree yoga was born in India. But on one hand yoga is more about feeling well in your body than getting an hourglass figure (you can just look at my yoga teacher if you need proof) and on the other hand yoga became popular in India only quite recently – after it became fashionable in the West actually! (6)
That being said, people are more and more aware of problems related to overweight, such as diabetes that affects more than 40 million Indians – here again they seem to have a local genetic predisposition for this disease (7). Hence an explosion of the number of gyms in lately: from almost none when I arrived in 2006 to thousands today. But well, only 0.23 million Indians are believed to have a gym membership... (8) So we can safely say that Indians are culturally anti-sportive!
And there is food... Traditionally Indian food is rich in carbohydrates (rice, wheat) and fats (a curry is not a curry if it is not full of butter or ghee). And on top of this Indians are fond of snacking.
And last but not least, I think that Indians do not find a big paunch unaesthetic. The dream of my ex-favourite Indian when he was a kid was to have a big tummy like his dad!
Just have a look at Ganesh and his belly (human but elephantine size!)…
Or the regular comments I get on my weight (here).
Source picture: http://travel.CNN.com/Mumbai/life/potbelly-138381
Other source: http://www.FAO.org/AG/AGN/nutrition/ind_en.stm