Russian Language Blog

Obesity: It’s Not Just for Westerners Posted by on Aug 20, 2014 in Culture, History


Myself, fatified (courtesy of Fatify app)

Recently I read an article in U.S. News about the most obese countries in the world. To my surprise, Russia ranked fourth. In fact, it was not a shock that the U.S. was number one, followed by China and then India; however, Russia was a shock. I remember when I was growing up there were times when we considered it a privilege to eat meat. My parents and grandparents can remember waiting in long lines for hours just to get a loaf of bread. The more I discovered about this topic, the more it made sense.

A study conducted in 2012 by the Nutrition Institute at the Russian Academy of Sciences stated that over 25 percent of Russians were overweight and that 55 percent of Russians carried excessive weight. The study also found that more women were overweight than men. This could make sense since the women bare the children. According to the State Statistical Office in Moscow, from 1950-1989 there was a strong shift in the dietary preferences of Russians. They changed from a diet higher in starchy foods like bread and potatoes to one that includes much more meat, dairy, and sugar. Economics is part of the reason for this, as is the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Anybody that has been to Russia during the last decade could not help but notice that more and more “western” fast-food chains are popping up. The first McDonald’s franchise was opened in Moscow in 1990 and in 2011 Subway surpassed them as Russia’s largest chain. While I would agree that there is both good and bad news associated with this influx of these new eating establishments, I would argue that the bad outweighs the good. The good aspect would be that Russians must have more disposable income some of which they spend on fast food. They wouldn’t build those restaurants if they were not profitable. Amazingly enough, these franchises are popping up in many cities, not just Moscow and St. Petersburg. Unfortunately, the heath issues that accompany these food choices are already being felt. According to the World Health Organization, in Russia, 80 percent of deaths are caused by chronic noncommunicable disease; these are diseases that are non-infectious and non-transmissible among other people. These usually develop as a result carrying excessive weight and being obese. They will greatly increase the chances of diabetes, stroke, cancer, and heart disease. Not only this, but as more Russians gain excessive weight, they will visit the doctor more often. Healthcare is another issue and I don’t have time to get into it now; however, as more and more people visit doctors and stay in hospitals, the more taxed the healthcare system will be. This could cause problems in the quality of care available and the costs could rise.

As I have stated in other posts, many Russians also like to smoke heavily – again they are ranked fourth in the world, and they like to drink. By combining all of the knowledge I have recently learned, it is not too surprising that Russians rank fourth now. Remembering a trip to Russia in 2006, you could buy so much American junk food – potato chips, candy bars, soda, etc… – even in small, remote villages like the one in which my grandmother lives. In looking at photos of the people and places I had visited, you can easily spot the excess weight many are carrying around. I remember when I first got to America over 11 years ago, I was astonished at how heavy people looked, now it looks like Russia is following suit.

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About the Author: Jenya

Born in Russia, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Orenburg, Russia and Mogilev, Belarus. For the last eleven years, I've lived in New Hampshire and Michigan, US. While I continue to absorb and adapt to American culture, I am always thrilled to share my Russian heritage with those who find it interesting. Travel, photography and art play a special part in my life. Twitter: @iamnx2u


  1. Ksenia:

    “More women are overweight than men” – that is true and that helps find one of the reasons for obesity that has little to do with food. In 1980 many Russian women following recommendations from their doctors started to use new popular hormonal contraceptives. However those tablets turned out to cause putting on weight as their side effect.

    • Jenya:

      @Ksenia Ksenia, спасибо. I can certainly see where this would be a contributing factor. It is unfortunate that we do not educate ourselves better about the stuff that goes in our bodies.

  2. samonen:

    Russians prefer fat! I’m not saying Western low-fat products are the way to go in combating obesity, but generally Russians want more fat in their milk, cheese and even meat than most Westerners. They use loads of smetana and love mayo (think of the staples of all festivities, the Olivier salad and “shuba”, for example). Alcohol consumption is high and alcohol contains huge amounts of calories. Many people don’t even regard beer as an alcogolic beverage; it’s just, well, a “refreshment”…

    I’m afraid the problem will only get worse in Russia. Up until very recently Russians have been using their feet as a means of transportation much more than Americans but this has changed and will change even more as cars are huge status symbols in Russia and environmental and ecological awareness almost non-existent.

  3. Ross Stuckey:

    I spent 6 months in St. Petersburg in 2004. I remember how surprised I was to see an obese person – but I only saw one. When I returned to the United States for months I continued to be amazed at how many very fat people I saw! The contrast with the Russians was incredible. I am very sorry to hear the information you supplied but given the American food that is now available there it is understandable. It is very sad – both for Americans and Russians.

  4. Jenya:

    Samonen, excellent points. The Russians in general do understand the dangers of processed/cheap foods but will it stop them from eating those foods in an attempt to save money and time? USA have been exporting chicken legs (nicknamed ножки Буша) to Russia for years. Russia can certainly supply its population with its own chicken; the question is why doesn’t it? In a downward spiral toward “more for less” the average individual is gaining not only more crap, but more and more health issues.

  5. lucas:

    Hi Jenya!
    I think you might be interested to know that no US agricultural industry can survive without government subsidies (as noted in a crs report prepared for congress). Pig and chicken farming industry alone is estimated to have saved itself around 35 billion from 97-05 (according to Tufts University study). This ultimately allows USA farmers to sell products well below production cost, thus undercutting other nations farmers and securing markets.

    • Jenya:

      @lucas Lucas, thank you for participating. Chicken drumsticks that USA imports to Russia must be cheaper, that is pretty obvious. Now, the reasons why is where I will have to disagree with you. It is not the government subsidies that allow that to happen, it is the way the industry is set up overall. The US farmers do not and cannot sell below production costs. The only ones that do are the mega brands (like Tyson and Perdue) that essentially engineer chickens, by feeding them GMO corn and letting them wallow in their own feces without ever seeing daylight. The result is a full grown chicken that collapses under the weight of its own muscle mass in little over 2 months. That is what ultimately decreases the price. Sustainable farming cannot compete with that. That is why sustainable farming is struggling in America: most people just don’t know the difference and do not want to pay double/triple the cost. Most of the subsidies you are referring to tend to repeatedly make their way in the hands of big food companies, not small sustainable farmers.
      I urge all my readers out there to think about where their food comes from. Watching Food Inc. is a great place to start.

  6. Lily:

    Dear Jenya,

    An FA member saw your article titled “Obesity: It’s Not Just for Westerners” and thought this program might be of interest to you.

    The program is an organization called Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA). FA is a Twelve Step recovery program offering a solution for anyone suffering from any form of food addiction including overeating, bulimia, under-eating, or food obsession.

    Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous has over 500 meetings throughout the United States in large and small cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Charlotte, Grand Rapids, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Austin, and Washington, D.C. Internationally, FA currently has groups in England, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Australia.

    If you would like more information about FA, please visit our website at There, you will also find a Media page where several articles written about FA have been posted. Additionally, you may contact our World Service Office at, or call us at (781) 932-6300.


    Lily Qiami
    Public Information Committee
    Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous
    400 W. Cummings Park #1700
    Woburn, MA 01801

  7. Ray:

    Several comments on the above…

    When a country sells or ships something to another country, that is called ‘an export’.
    I think you meant that the USA ‘exports’ chicken legs to Russia. Russia would then be said to ‘import’ chicken legs from the USA.

    Most corn consumed in the USA is GMO, both animal and human products.

    In California, and I expect elsewhere in the USA, chickens do not wallow in their feces. They are raised in cages that do not allow this. They do sit rather low to the ground because we cut their legs off at 8 weeks and send them to Russia. (The preceding was a joke) I’m not sure that you could say that our current method of raising chickens is NOT sustainable. I would need to know how you are defining that word. It may not be very humane but I think it is sustainable.

    You are correct when you say that it comes down to price. Most people offered a lower price will usually chose the lower price over other considerations. That is not the fault of the company offering the lower priced product but it could be due to the hypocrisy of the consumer. There are so called “free range” chickens available here but they sell for 2 or 3 times the price of cage raised chicken and are not that popular. I don’t buy chicken legs but I do buy cage raised whole chickens for my rotisserie cooker for typically 89 or 99 cents per pound.

    Thanks for your interesting Russia info.

  8. Jenya:

    Ray, thank you very much for reading!
    I replaced “imports” with “imports.” I am aware of the difference in their meaning, sometimes I am just in too much of a rush, I’ll work on that :-).
    Yes, most of USA corn (and soy) are GMO, and the birds, the cattle, and the people eat large quantities of it, unfortunately.
    I personally advicate esting less meat altogether and trying to spend that money on organic (or conventional) vegetables.
    Whose fault is it that we live this way? I would start by pointing finger at myself. I owe it to myself and my family to research and educate myself on where my food comes from and whether it is good for me. There are way too many opinions and different camps out there, so the task inevitably becomes overwhelming and confusing. It is up to each of us to figure out what is acceptable and what is not.
    With that in mind, below are some videos depicting the way conventional chickens are raised. I am sorry but I do not find these practises sustainable.