Ask someone in Europe what they think of Americans and often they’ll tell you that they’re ‘fat and loud’. It’s not a terribly flattering portrait, but unfortunately it’s the perception that many other countries have of the US (the good news is that they also describe them as ‘friendly and glamorous’ but at that point you’ll probably be too offended to be listening anymore….).
The fact of the matter here is that unfortunately Americans are fatter than Europeans, and that statistically you’re more likely to be overweight if you live in the US than anywhere else in the world. But saying that isn’t to let Europe of the hook and many Europeans should really consider taking a look in the mirror before throwing stones in glass houses. According to recent surveys, the UK, Luxembourg, Ireland and Finland all make it into the top ten most obese countries with many other European countries not far behind.
So what does this tell us? Why is Europe getting fatter? And why is the US still fattest? More to the point, what can we do about it?
There are many different factors that lead to high rates of obesity in any given country, and many of these do shed some light on why the situation is worse in certain countries. Take diet for instance – of course a country like Japan that eats mostly rice is going to be much slimmer than a country like the US that has a diet of chips and burgers. The UK is the fattest country in Europe and it’s probably no coincidence that their national cuisine is made up of pie and fry ups. Too many ‘full English breakfasts’ aren’t going to be great for the waist line in much the same way that pancakes for breakfast won’t be. On the other hand a country like Italy which eats a lot of pasta with tomatoes or a country like France that has a delicate seafood diet is going to enjoy better health.
Meanwhile you can also blame the drinking culture in the respective countries. Beer is popular throughout the US and Europe, but is enjoyed in huge quantities in the UK and Ireland. Look at somewhere like Russia or Ireland on the other hand and you’re dealing mostly with the far-less-calorific vodka.
And you can even this way blame some of Europe’s weight gain on the US – and specifically on the international popularity of brands like KFC and McDonalds which are bringing a fattier diet to the continent.
Then there’s the role of government to consider. While Europe is very liberal compared to some more Eastern parts of the world, even in the UK government takes a more ‘hands on’ approach to the health of its residents whereas the US has always been more Laissez Fair in its style. This is why in the US there are far fewer restrictions on what can and can’t go into food products than there are across Europe and why European countries are far more likely to show public health warnings on television explaining the dangers of eating unhealthily.
Lifestyle of course also plays a big role in the health of a nation and once again it’s worth noting that the American lifestyle tends to be one that involves a lot of office work, computer games and stress. The US have the longest working hours and their exports tend to be things like software, films and technology that don’t require too much manual labour. Go somewhere like Poland and you’ll find a lot more of the people in labour jobs, while anywhere in Europe will have shorter working hours meaning they presumably have more energy and time on their hands when they get home (and interestingly the UK is the European country with the longest working hours).
As technology continues to play a more and more active role in our lives, we are as a rule becoming more and more sedentary and this could be one reason that Europe too is becoming fatter. As games and television get more involving, and as computers and machines can do more and more of our jobs, most of us across the world are missing out on opportunities to lose weight.
Finally you could also blame the economic crisis for some of the weight gain across the world as it forces us all to start choosing cheaper ingredients for our dinner which tends to mean ready meals and unhealthy snacks. Europe could be getting fatter partly because the costs of living are increasing.
In short there are all kinds of reasons that nation might be fatter on average than another, and too many confounding factors to pin point any precise cause. However it’s fair to say that some of the things contributing to America’s current predicament and Europe’s rapidly expanding waistline probably include:
- Less government involvement
- The popularity of fast food chains
- The cost of eating healthily
- More sedentary lifestyles
- And more fattening national cuisines
While there’s much more involved then, starting with these points could help to get the US and our European cousins back on track.