The U.S. and Brazil are two largely populated countries that may be more related than one can ever guess – in an impressive way – at least when it comes to body-health-related markets, reveals Corpometria Obesity Prevention Institute. On this occasion, we conducted an interview with Dr. Flávio Cadegiani to learn more.
1. What do you think is common between Brazil and the USA when it comes to obesity and fitness markets?
Both American and Brazilian obesity and fitness markets are amongst the largest ones, ranking 1st and 2nd, respectively. For several aspects of both fitness and obesity markets, including number of gyms, gym members, high intensity functional training (HIFT, including CrossFit) locations and practitioners, average whey protein intake, while also sales of weight-loss drugs, number of bariatric procedures (other popular names: “weight loss” or “metabolic” surgeries), availability of dieticians, and consumption of non-sweetened or artificially sweetened foods and beverages, the USA and Brazil also rank 1st and 2nd, respectively.
2. Why do you think that although Brazil has the second-largest number of gyms and gym members in the world (only behind the USA), it is still in the fifth-place with the largest number of obese people and the second in weight-loss drugs and bariatric surgery markets
When we look at numbers like number of drugs prescribed for weight-loss or bariatric surgeries, we are not looking at the prevalence of obesity, but the willingness of obese subjects to lose weight instead. Possibly, obese Brazilians tend to seek more for weight-loss treatments compared to other countries, possibly because they may feel more uncomfortable with their own bodies, or even suffer more from some sorts of “fat phobia”, in a country that focuses and highly worships body aesthetics. The body shape worship may also be the underlying reason why Brazil also ranks exceptionally well in fitness market rankings. Eventually, obesity market does not reflect the obesity prevalence of a certain location.
Indeed, it is curious that at a first sight, if we consider that someone can be either an obese person, or an athlete, but never both, the coexistence of great successfulness of both obesity and fitness markets would not make sense. But there is a collective and constant desire for better body shapes, regardless of the current body status, and that desire goes from body builders until morbidly obese subjects. In the end, part of the obese population may concurrently enlarge the numbers of the fitness market, as many starts an attempt to modify their lifestyle by becoming a gym member, for example.
3. Can you tell us more about CrossFit? And, why is it emerging in Brazil and the USA?
CrossFit the the brand name and is the symbol of a new sport modality, termed “High Intensity Interval Training” (HIFT), in which multiple modalities, including intensive endurance and strength exercises, are mixed altogether, in an irregular and chaotic way, without any logical sequence, and are performed in groups of athletes, never alone. HIFT and CrossFit have become an anthropological and sociological phenomena because these modalities address the key psychological issues of typical non-collective sports, which include monotony, boredom, excessively pre-programmed training sessions (which leads to lack of expectations of “what comes next”), and loneliness. HIFT regimens are, by definition, continuously irregular, so athletes never know what the next tasks will be, allied to a constant presence of intra- and inter-individual competitiveness, besides intense social interactions. All these aspects prevent from the typical monotony of training, and enhance feelings of motivation, expectations and enthusiasm, which makes HIFT and CrossFit highly seductive, and even addictive. Moreover, the lack of regular training patterns may enhance aesthetic results, as calories burned and level of muscle hypertrophy tend to be reduced after repeated trainings.
Brazil and the USA share some common characteristics including the tendency for higher levels of competitiveness (the American continent, as the “new world”, has historically attracted those who are always aiming to grow) and more intense social interactions. These two characteristics were what likely led to the “CrossFit phenomenon” in both countries. In contrast, from a sociological perspective, European countries tend to be more settled and resolved with their current state, including their physical shape. Consequently, European countries (except UK) tend to practice sports that are not focused on aesthetic and interactions, but on an overall well-being instead. On the other hand, due to lower rates of anxiety, associated with an absence of a culture of full-time affluences of amusements (specially food abundance), countries such as Italy and France have lower obesity prevalente than Brazil and the USA, particularly when these numbers are adjusted for home income, social class, and level of scholarship.
4. How do gyms in Brazil and the USA compare with the rest of the world?
Brazil and the USA have some of the largest gym chains in the world. Both countries also offer a wide variety of gyms, since inexpensive ones until high-end options with multiple facilities. Both are also amongst the largest markets for recently launched expensive gym-related equipments. The level of priority that both Brazilians and Americans give for gym-related activities naturally motivated companies keep always investing on innovations. Conversely, other countries, among which some are richer than Brazil, have lower investments on gym innovations and improvements in gym facilities, and tend to have older and not so fancy gyms, studio or boxes.
Finally, crowds of gyms in Brazil and the USA tend to look “physically better” (leaner, more muscle, less fat), once Brazilians and Americans tend to be more aesthetically-oriented than other populations.
5. How does culture affect obesity?
Food-entered culture is present worldwide, and is not necessarily related to obesity. Conversely, three great cultural shifts in eating patterns, including changes from flavours to reward and hedonic eating, like comfort food, highly sugary or fatty foods; from the balance between naturally healthy eating to a full-time excessive food availability; and from a cultural of patience and resilience to a constant need for prompt hedonic activities, in response to “motivational” phrases like “life is now” or “carpe diem”, are shifts that induced a substantial increase of caloric intake from poorer sources of foods. These shifts, without a compensatory physical activity, led to an obesity epidemic in both Brazil and the USA.
Particularly, those who have a genetic predisposition for compulsive behaviors were unable to deal with environments of excesses and hedonic living, and have fatally progressed to obesity.
In the past, food as a source of satisfaction and pleasure was only on Sundays, while during weekdays food were meant to feed and nourish. In this period, obesity was rare, and mostly correlated with monogenic genetic disorders. In addition, classic foods were less processed, and rarely induced an overeating behaviour. On the other hand, currently food is made to be a source of emotional overcompensation and to induce addictive drug-like reactions, which is greatly performed by ultra processed foods.
In the past, food as a source of satisfaction and pleasure was only offered on Sundays, while during weekdays food were only meant to feed and nourish. In this period, obesity was rare, and mostly correlated with monogenic genetic disorders. In addition, classic foods were less processed, and rarely induced an overeating behaviour. On the other hand, nowadays foods are designed to be sources of emotional support, overcompensation of frustrations and other negative feeling, and to induce addictive drug-like reactions. All these abilities are greatly performed by ultra processed foods.
To make this story worse, multiple studies have showed a paradoxical effect of “excessive motivation” for weight loss when induced by increased levels of self-dissatisfaction. The motivation generated by highly negative self-perceived body shape may lead to a severe caloric restriction in the short-run, which will last a very short period, and undoubtedly followed by hard-to-treat binge eating behaviours . The increasing dissatisfaction with body shape and weight comes from two main reasons: the increasing exposure (and inevitably comparisons) to unrealistic and highly retouched body photos in social media, and the existence of body worship-oriented cultures, which induces a collective search for “unreasonable body ideals”. In aesthetics-focused places, people tend to be judged according to their body shapes, which enhances the levels of dissatisfaction.
The thunders of feelings and roller-coaster sensations, typically more present in Brazil and the USA, when compared to most European and Asian countries, may justify why these two countries tend to eat more white and high-satisfying carbohydrates sources, and to appreciate more sugary sweets (Europeans, for instance, tend to consider the American and Brazilian patisseries excessively sweet), which reinforces the idea that these countries tend to eat emotions, rather than tastes.
In summary, many aspects of the current culture, coming from different directions, are true, strong, and intense stimulations for the obesity epidemic.
6. What recommendations would you like to provide for those willing to enter the obesity and fitness markets?
For a true successfulness, those who are willing to enter the obesity or fitness market, or both, need to be able to innovate sometimes in unexpected way. Innovations focused on reducing levels of self-sacrifices tend to be very successful. A good example are the vibrating equipments (X-body, etc), which are claimed to replace classic weight lifting without much physical effort, and which are becoming a true phenomenon. This is because self-sacrifices were shown to rarely last long, and usually result in further overcompensatory habits. In this case, a sacrificial weight loss process will likely fail in the long-run, and will lead to further weight gain.
Another strategy is to increase the level of user-friendliness of the activities, services or products offered, or to provide more human interactions.
Also, detecting problems of misalignment of expectations between customers and companies, a common challenge in current fitness and obesity companies, and not inly fully addressing them, but also surprisingly exceed customer’s expectations, is a great step for a quite and durable successful business.
In the end, for both markets, passionate working is the key to naturally follow the above-mentioned suggestions. A prosperous company will then be a natural consequence.
This interview has been sponsored by OneVox Creative Solutions
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