Asian Skinny vs. American Fat

Okay, I normally don’t use the word “fat” but it seemed appropriate in this context. When I was in Asia visiting Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, we were hard-pressed to find one person who I would consider to be overweight. In some of the villages we visited,  underweight was the norm, but of course this was due to the poverty we saw. In fact, malnourishment has stunted the growth of many we saw there, and was even pointed out by our Cambodian guide “Long” who said that while his people were naturally shorter than most Americans, the lack of regular access to meat and other proteins has caused some to be even smaller developed.

However, even in the cities that were prospering (Bangkok and Hanoi) I still rarely, if ever, saw anyone I would label as overweight. But, it really didn’t hit me with what a difference there was between our two cultures until I got home and was sitting in the Newark airport awaiting a flight to Orlando. As I looked around, I couldn’t identify one person that I would label as slender. I pointed this out to my mom, who also began to scan the crowds. We didn’t find one person. Really!

Now, before you start fussing at me for the topic of this post, know that I list myself among those who could benefit from slimming down and healthying up. I wrote a whole post about it here. But, as I was sitting in Newark, it gave me even more time to reflect on the differences between what I was seeing in the good old USA and what I saw in Asia.

Fresh Food

Even in the big cities we visited, there was an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables on every corner. Carried on motorcycles and bicycles straight from the local farms, a business man has only to stand on the sidewalk for a few minutes before a woman would pass by selling food.

Skinny Asia - bike peddler - see more at

There were no fast food restaurants; no McDonalds or Taco Bell that we saw; however, KFC had recently come to Hanoi. Our guide “Ha” told us that while the younger generation might enjoy KFC, the older generation did not think it tasted as good as the farm fresh chicken bought in markets. (And when I say “farm fresh” I mean it!)

Chicken delivery - no KFC - see more at

Ha took it a step further saying that he thought obesity might become a problem in the future as the younger generation was shying away from the hard manual labor of working on a farm in favor of the skilled office jobs of IT. Add in a penchant for KFC and I can see he has a point. Like many Americans, I often opt for the easiness of fast meals, so perhaps I should be adding in some more freshness to my diet.



One third of Americans are considered “obese” while another third are “overweight” so maybe we all could switch it up and see some benefits.

Physical Activity

From working long hours each day just trying to survive (fishing from sun up to sun down, farming, harvesting rice, etc.) the majority of people we saw in the different countries seemed to have an active lifestyle. However, even in the prosperous cities, where people may have office jobs, the masses still got up early to participate in exercise, whether it was playing football (soccer), badminton on the sidewalk, or tai chi in the park. This was a normal morning routine before heading to work.

Badmitton on the sidewalk in Hanoi

I struggle to add in regular exercise (simply because I hate doing it!) but I enjoyed the morning Tai Chi we did on our cruise in Ha Long Bay, so I’m subscribing to a Tai Chi channel on YouTube to hopefully start doing it each morning.


Not only is a morning exercise often done, but the bicycle is a normal mode of transportation. Although the motorcycle is fast replacing this, many still bike. Hmmm… maybe I can dust off my bike and add this in? (And maybe I should have done the biking tour of Angkor Wat instead of the air conditioned van tour! Lol)



Adequate Sleep

Work hard, sleep hard. Villagers know a lot about this as many times there is little electricity available so when the sun’s down, so are the villagers. In the big cities where there is often a vibrant night life, such as in Hanoi, siestas are common. In fact, the Vietnamese government encourages employers to grant an hour-and-a-half for lunch and many workers eat quickly in order to get a good hour nap, oftentimes under their desks!

Sleeping after lunch in Thailand

There are plenty of studies that link lack of sleep with obesity, so in my stressed-out, sleep-deprived America, maybe that lunchtime siesta policy would help!

Change in Attitude

I have a friend who gives tours here in Orlando for foreigners who visit. She  speaks several different languages but has been escorting French tourists most recently. I asked what her French tourists thought about the U.S. and she answered with this: “They are struck by how fat Americans are. On TV and at the movies they are used to seeing Americans as only beautiful people, the skinny models, the fit people, and so they are shocked when they see most of America is no where close to that.”

And while we all are aware of this fact, it disturbs me that many people are fighting to have us accept that this unhealthy lifestyle is okay. That we should be happy with the way we are; plus sizes and all. No, I am not advocating any type of bias against those who struggle with weight, but I am angry that it is sometimes suggested we should take the attitude of happily embracing obesity; that it is “brave” to take the stance and say, “I am fat and I am okay with that!” (See my rant about this unhealthy attitude here.)

And, I am serious that we Americans seem to want to take the easy way out of just accepting being overweight instead of getting our butts in gear. Just take a look at this photo, which was posted on the Facebook account of Plus-Size Models:

Skinny Asians vs fat Americans = see more at


Guess which side won?  When I last checked, 39,625 people had “liked” the photo (to indicate yes) vs. 2,476 people commenting (to indicate no). *Sigh*

The Bottom Line

Obviously the answer lies somewhere in the middle – in between the malnourishment of many Asians we saw and the obesity we often see in America. To try and reach this middle, I will be adopting the above strategies:

  1. Replacing some of my fast meals with more fresh fruits and vegetables
  2. Exercising more regularly
  3. Making the effort to get more sleep

Here is my favorite comment on the Fat Barbie picture, which sums up my thoughts perfectly:

Skinny Asians vs Fat America - see more at

Health is going to be my priority for 2014. Won’t you join me by making these three easy changes?