Are Europeans healthier than we are?
So as you can see, Europeans have fast food. McD’s is found in 10 locations in the very hip and cosmopolitan city of Barcelona, for instance. They don’t have nearly as many chains or locations as we do, though.
I have a weird little game I played in airports and train stations all over Europe and in the U.S. I counted groups of 100 people and keep a tally of how many of them are overweight/obese, just to compare countries. I don’t do this to be mean-spirited, nor do I think it’s the most statistically sound experiment ever. People in airports are probably leaving out the oldest citizens, for instance, creating something less ideal than a true random sample, although this should be uniformly true everywhere, so the results are skewed across the board. And I can’t ferret out the tourists from the natives. (However, very few Americans are traveling in Europe now to skew my results, with the weak dollar, I found.) This is what I found very consistently (and I repeated the experiment over and over to see if any of my samples of 100 are outliers):
United States: over 50% are overweight, some obese (this is not new information to you)
France, Spain, Italy: about 15% are overweight
England: about 20% are overweight
Italians in northern Italy are big meat eaters (the southern Italy diet, famed as “Mediterranean,” is much more plant based). Everywhere you drive in the top half of the country, corn fields are growing–not to feed the people, but to feed the livestock (and ethanol refineries, I’m sure). The French really do eat a lot of white bread products. They have junk food accessible everywhere. Why, then, are the vast majority of them thin and relatively fit? These are my theories.
Where Europeans have Americans (and Canadians and Aussies) beat:
They have portions under control, they eat more vegetables, and they exercise more (lots of walking and bike riding going on)
Where Americans have the Euros beat:
Europeans are certainly struggling with high levels of heart disease and cancer. Their smoking rate is incredible, whereas that’s the one marker that the U.S. has seen strong gains: our smoking rate has gone down consistently during the past two decades.
Honestly, I think part of the portion control is achieved simply because they CAN’T AFFORD to eat more! Overuse of anything is rather socially taboo (those tiny little Smart Cars are everywhere), and a can of Coke is $4-$5 (about 3 euros or so) at any gas station. And with exorbitant fuel costs, the Europeans long ago started riding bikes and walking. In Italy, all the cars are tiny. I never saw a single Suburban or Expedition, or even a Honda Pilot like mine. No wonder the birth rate is negative in that country–the cars won’t fit any children! Roads are narrow and would never allow the big honkin’ cars we drive here. And the shops don’t have parking–I never saw a Walmart or its trademark small-city-sized parking lot, though I’m sure Walmart exists somewhere in Europe.
I’m buying a scooter next spring to reduce my usage of nonrenewable energy. (I already drive the highest-mpg mid-size SUV on the market.) I’m going to learn to buy a bag or two of groceries and put them in my scooter on my way home from the gym or work every day or two, rather than the usual bigger shopping trips. My inlaws can’t believe I’m going to ride to the university 20 mins. away on a scooter, but I’m going to try it.
Today, the first day of school, my children are walking to school, and they’ve been informed that’s our New Normal. We’ve always been pretty green, with the plant-based diet, gardening, composting, avoiding packaged foods, and eating weeds. But I’m inspired to get GREENER. Do you have two garbage cans going to the curb each week rather than just one? If so, you might want to consider doing the same. What’s cool is when you can send your one garbage can out every OTHER week because you use so little that comes in boxes, cans, and bottles.
Posted in: Exercise, Healthy Weight
5 thoughts on “Are Europeans healthier than we are?”Leave a Comment
Since going vegan and eating more fruits and veggies, our recycle bin has gone down from every week to the curb to once a month!!!!
Nearly 60% of British are either overweight or obese. They’re behind Americans (I think we’re at 65%) but they’re catching up. We lived in England for a while and heard plenty of Fat American jokes, but I always looked around me and everything felt strangely familiar. We both have absolutely terrible eating habits. Thanks VERY much, Robyn, for all your efforts to gently educate your fellow man . . . one of the ways I motivate myself is by reading your blog!!
Interesting, Emily, because when I was with about 400+ British on a cruise ship for 2 weeks earlier this summer, I had blogged that while they were mostly retired people (who are more overweight than younger people), they were almost all overweight–I would guess over 80 percent, and many of them obese.
I didn’t see that in London, but I was there only 36 hours and in the subway, train stations, etc. a lot, where there was probably a preponderance of higher-education, younger-age professionals.
But the British cuisine is terrible (though you can always find a salad if you look): lots of meat, pies, jellies, puddings, weird stuff.
I think the reason why people in London are slimmer than people in the rest of England has nothing to do with brightness or age, but more with movement: even if you take the tube (subway), you have to walk a lot to get from one point to another…
And since I am an European, I have some opinions about the rest of your post too… First of all, gas station are always extremely expensive here. You probably noticed everything was a lot cheaper in normal supermarkets. You can get a lot of rubbish for nearly nothing, especially fat meats and potato chips, etc.
The biking and walking – I have to agree on that. I almost do all the traveling with my bike (although I know a lot of people who take the car everywhere unfortunately) – and I grew up that way. My mother almost never did the weekly grocery shopping by car for instance. It’s not only a lot cheaper, but because distances are short, most of the time it’s quicker. If I want to go to the center of the city where I live, biking beats driving (it’s a lot cheaper and I can bike everywhere, while cars are forbidden in a lot of areas and I have to find a car park and walk). When I was little, I used to walk to school (I wasn’t allowed to go by bike because I lived too close and there was not enough parking space for all the bikes) and when I went to high school – I biked every day (25 minutes one way). Rain, snow… There were a few people who had scooters, but everybody else got there by bike (or if you lived really far away train or bus, but I’d say 90 % of my classmates rode their bikes).
And the cars in Italy are not tiny – cars in America are huge. 😉 (I really do think a Honda Pilot is a HUGE car, for example.) And I hope the part about birth rate it a joke?! And of course the roads are not huge – we all drive normal cars that fit on there. 😉 I am actually kind of curious how big car parks are in America – I see lots of shops with parking in Europe. Especially in France or Italy (I live in the Netherlands and always look forward to those huge shops, because ours are not that big). Oh, and I don’t think there are Walmarts in Europe…
The smoking rate in the Netherlands is about 20, 25 % I think. What is it in America?
True true, that cars in America are huge! And everything’s relative, I guess–I came home thinking that my Honda Pilot is huge, too, even though I’ve been patting myself on the back since buying it a couple of years ago, since everyone around me had a Suburban or Expedition! (My sister-in-law gets 8 miles to the gallon.) And yes, my comment about Italians and birth rates is definitely a joke. When you have four kids, though, you have to have a car that seats at least 6. When they are athletes, you constantly have OTHER people’s kids in your car, so 8 is helpful. But we rented an 8-passenger Fiat van in Italy that got MUCH better mileage–never found such a thing when shopping a few years ago (resulting in the aforementioned Honda Pilot I was so self-congratulatory about).
I should take a photo of a typical market’s parking lot (you call them car parks)–or Walmart’s–you won’t believe it.
I don’t know the smoking rate, will have to look for that.