Racial and Ethnic Stereotypes May Contribute to Obesity
Many Americans need extraordinary willpower to avoid becoming obese—or to slim down if they already weigh too much. For members of minority groups, maintaining a healthy weight can be that much harder, according to new research led by Luis Rivera, PhD, an experimental social psychologist at Rutgers University-Newark.
Rivera says it’s common for minorities in the United States to endure negative stereotypes—pervasive messages that suggest those groups are inferior—and that these attitudes can prevent people from doing what’s needed to care for their health.
“When you are exposed to negative stereotypes, you may gravitate more toward unhealthy foods as opposed to healthy foods,” says Rivera, whose study appears in the Journal of Social Issues. “You may have a less positive attitude toward watching your carbs or cutting back on fast food, and toward working out and exercising.”
Rivera says the resulting difference in motivation may help explain, at least in part, higher rates of obesity in the United States among members of minority groups than among whites.
Rivera found that Latinos he studied were significantly more likely than whites to agree that negative stereotypes commonly used to describe Hispanics applied to them. The result suggested to Rivera that “somewhere in their heads they’re making the connection that the stereotype is Latino, I am Latino, and therefore I am the stereotype.”
Hispanics in the study who strongly self-stereotyped were more than three times as likely to be overweight or obese as those who did not. The data suggest that self-stereotypes diminish self-esteem—and therefore the motivation that might have helped them follow a healthier lifestyle.
Rivera says demeaning stereotypes come from many sources. For instance, he says, television and other mass media frequently carry harmful messages, such as that Latinos are lazy or unintelligent. “And then,” he adds, “there are more subtle ways in conversations and interactions with others. Although people don’t say explicitly ‘you are A, you are B,’ there are ways in which those messages are communicated. It could be teachers. It could be your parents. It could be your friends.”
Rivera says there’s even evidence that Latinos born in this country tend to have a poorer self-image than many recent Hispanic immigrants, suggesting that stereotypes ingrained in US culture are especially potent, and that the design of his research reinforces that view.
Aside from ethnicity, the people Rivera studied were nearly identical. They lived in the same neighborhood, had comparable incomes, and had similar access to healthful foods, and he asked them the same questions—additional evidence that if the whites and the Latinos saw themselves differently, society’s prejudice against Latinos was the underlying reason.
So how does a person discouraged by stereotypes overcome them? According to Rivera, research suggests that exposure to positive racial and ethnic role models may help. Something else worth trying, he says, could be designing approaches to weight loss that emphasize the person’s positive qualities as a way to counteract the corrosive effects of prejudice.
“It has been shown that when you remind people what they’re good at, it works to immunize them from the effect of stereotypes,” Rivera says. “It releases their anxieties and allows them to focus on the task before them and perform to their ability.”
— Source: Rutgers University
Gluten-Free Ingredient May Cause Allergic Reaction
A popular new ingredient in gluten-free products could be causing an allergic reaction, according to a Kansas State University food safety specialist.
Lupin, a legume belonging to the same plant family as peanuts, is showing up as a wheat replacement in an increasing number of gluten-free products. The FDA is now issuing an alert, urging consumers with peanut and soybean allergies to read labels before buying these products.
"Lupin is a yellow-colored bean that's very popular in Europe, Mediterranean countries, Australia, and New Zealand," says Karen Blakeslee, Kansas State University extension specialist in food science and coordinator of the Rapid Response Center. “However, it’s new to the United States and because of that, many consumers have never heard of it and may not realize that lupin has the same protein that causes allergic reactions to peanuts and soybeans.”
Allergic reactions can have various symptoms, including hives, swelling of the lips, vomiting, breathing difficulties, and anaphylactic shock. Even those without allergies to legume products need to be aware of the ingredient.
"You can become allergic to something at any point in your life," Blakeslee says. "If you do start seeing any symptoms of an allergic reaction, stop eating the food immediately and contact your doctor."
The FDA expects lupin to become a popular product in the gluten-free arena because of its many health qualities. It’s high in protein and in dietary fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, and is low in fat.
Manufacturers are required to list lupin on the food label. The FDA is actively monitoring complaints of lupin allergies by US consumers.
— Source: Kansas State University