Lose weight? Integrate!
Integration into mainstream Dutch society is good for your figure. That's basically the conclusion of research conducted by the Social and Cultural Planning Office of the Netherlands (SCP).
Too many migrants of Turkish, Moroccan and Antillean origin are overweight, but migrants from these ethnic groups who speak Dutch well and have contact with Dutch people are considerably slimmer and have less chance of becoming obese.
According to the report entitled Minderheden meer gewicht ("Minorities More Weight"), the body mass index or BMI of 55 percent of Turks, 51 percent of Moroccans and 50 percent of Antilleans living in the Netherlands is too high.
The figures get an even more alarming dimension when gender is taken into account. While the report refers to overweight men, more and more women are in the obese category. 20 percent of Turkish and Moroccan women are obese compared with 12 percent of native Dutch women, while a quarter of Antillean and Surinam women fall into this category.
So, is integration into mainstream society some kind of magic formula for losing weight, or is there a more plausible explanation? Jaco Dagevos from the SCP points out that the role model for the perfect woman is different among ethnic minorities. Rounded curves go hand and hand with prosperity. Ethnic women who are mixing with their Dutch counterparts will have a different image of what ideal beauty constitutes.
And then there's the whole aspect of "comfort eating". Unemployment among ethnic minorities is higher than the Dutch average; more women are unemployed than men, while elderly ethnic women especially - the least integrated - tend to sit at home and have all the time in the world on their hands to dip, and dip, and dip into their favourite foods. Then, when you add depression to the scenario, the kilograms go on a journey of their own. The result: increased chances of contracting diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Whatever the underlying reasons may be, the publication of the SCP's report has the unfortunate side effect. It's pretty much a red rag to a bull for the many Islamophobes among the Dutch population.One of many similar reactions on the website of the populist daily De Telegraaf reflects a common attitude: "Yeah, if you sit on your fat backside all day doing nothing and just saunter once a week to the market... Maybe you should pray less and get a job?"
By Jacqueline Nolan
22 August 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]