The borough of Hackney represents one of London’s most multicultural and diverse boroughs. As well as having a large Black African and Caribbean population, the Turkish and Vietnamese community also populate the borough.  Turkish nationals began to arrive from the 1930’s, with 4.5% of the borough’s population now comprised of Turkish nationals.

Hackney also hosts a large Charedi Jewish community, particularly in the Stamford Hill region. According to a recent census 7.4% of the population are Jewish. The Jewish community began to develop from the 1920's, with a mix of British, Israeli and Yemen. In total, 40% of Hackney’s population is comprised of black, minority ethnic groups.

It is entirely plausible that the cultural traditions of each of these communities may hold the key to understanding the borough’s obesity epidemic; which shapes our latest campaign- Does culture make you fat? Whilst opponents of our campaign may argue that ‘people should move more, and eat less’; this short sighted rhetoric fails to consider the eating behaviours and exercise traditions of cultural sub groups within this multicultural borough.

For example, the Indian and Bangladeshi communities of this borough typically eat a diet rich in curry and rice; whilst African communities typically eat lots of stews like fufu. Turkish communities typically eat a diet that is heavy with processed meats. The Caribbean diet can also be prevalent in calorific foods like rice, patties and ginger beer.  The Vietnamese community typically eat a diet that is high in vegetables, with fresh fragrant dishes like pho and ban-mi; although they tend to consume a lot of salt in foods such as soy sauce and pho paste.

Furthermore, when one’s culture underpins the food choices consumed, you begin to see the challenge of sustaining a healthy weight. To suggest to these cultural groups to remove these foods would be on par with asking a vegetarian to remove vegetables from their diet. It is important to consider that their heritage, beliefs, religion, and peer relationships shape the food that they eat; and a more feasible approach would be to adopt culturally specific dietary modifications that are entrenched in their values.

Examples of these culturally specific modifications may be to reduce the amount of oil used in cooking in order to lower fat intake. Oil swaps, such as having rapeseed instead of vegetable oil represents a healthier option. Other examples include consuming more vegetables at the expense of rice, adopting brown rice instead of white rice, reducing the overall portion size to lower the overall calorific intake; and to reduce salt intake.

Mechanisms of reducing salt intake may be to use low sodium soy sauce, avoid using mono sodium glutamate (MSG) which contains hidden salt, or adding more herbs and spices as an alternative to salt when making meals, such as jerk chicken or curried goat. Alternatively, making curry sauces from scratch rather than purchasing ready made options from a supermarket means you can control how much (or little) salt is added.

Eating behaviours is only one element of sustaining a healthy weight, depending on cultural values. In some populations, such as India, Bangladesh or Turkey, females generally do not exercise; unless they are very westernized. Whereas, males from these groups typically have low rates of exercise participation.

Although the tide is turning, with a greater prevalence of younger people taking up physical activity, challenging factors such as social stigma and discrimination, ingrained cultural beliefs, and not having culturally specific exercise programme often underpins poor attrition rates.