How culture shapes the body: Cultural consonance and body mass in urban brazil




The aim of this article is to develop a model of how culture shapes the body, based on two studies conducted in urban Brazil.


Research was conducted in 1991 and 2001 in four socioeconomically distinct neighborhoods. First, cultural domain analyses were conducted with samples of key informants. The cultural domains investigated included lifestyle, social support, family life, national identity, and food. Cultural consensus analysis was used to confirm shared knowledge in each domain and to derive measures of cultural consonance. Cultural consonance assesses how closely an individual matches the cultural consensus model for each domain. Second, body composition, cultural consonance, and related variables were assessed in community surveys. Multiple regression analysis was used to examine the association of cultural consonance and body composition, controlling for standard covariates and competing explanatory variables.


In 1991, in a survey of 260 individuals, cultural consonance had a curvilinear association with the body mass index that differed for men and women, controlling for sociodemographic and dietary variables. In 2001, in a survey of 267 individuals, cultural consonance had a linear association with abdominal circumference that differed for men and women, controlling for sociodemographic and dietary variables. In general, as cultural consonance increases, body mass index and abdominal circumference decline, more strongly for women than men.


As individuals, in their own beliefs and behaviors, more closely approximate shared cultural models in socially salient domains, body composition also more closely approximates the cultural prototype of the body. Am. J. Hum. Biol. © 2012Wiley Periodicals, Inc.