Thursday, May 19, 2011

15-Day Count Down to Provence: Getting a Handle on Overweight and Obesity

This morning I got up early (very early) to get the facts on overweight and obesity.  I wanted to satisfy my curiosity about what’s going on with this worldwide phenomenon and share what I learned with you. 

I discovered that there is a debate about whether the US is the fattest country in the world.  Some Pacific Islands and countries in the Middle East exceed us.  Still, the US is the fattest country in the developed world, if we are to believe a 2010 report

The real issue is that virtually everywhere across the globe, the number of persons with excess body weight has increased since 1980.  And according to a related Huff Post article, the study shows that other countries are gaining weight faster than the US.  

Why should we care?  Health risks of cardiovascular disease, type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke associated with overweight and obesity give us reasons enough for concern.  Associated skyrocketing health care costs is another reason to become alarmed.  Did you know that health care spending is 25 percent higher for someone who is obese than for someone who is of normal weight? (Okay, call me a geek for statistics). 

How about France where we’ll live for the next three months?  France is faring better than most developed countries in terms of overweight and obesity.  It ranks among the lowest of the world’s 33 wealthiest nations.  Still obesity rates have increased in France and are expected to continue to get worse.  About 40 percent of people in France are overweight or obese (in contrast to 68 percent in the US).  In a article from 2007, the US ranked high for the percentage of adults who are overweight (ninth place) while France ranked quite low (128 of 194 countries).

What’s the cause of the overweight and obesity epidemic?  According to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, “Changes in the food supply and eating habits, combined with a dramatic fall in physical activity have made obesity a global epidemic.”  A rapid transformation in eating habits may be afoot.  For example, the much-lauded Mediterranean Diet, had all but disappeared in Greece as of 2008. Along with the diet’s extinction came more calories and greater girth.  

Please comment below on these questions:  What can we learn from these fast facts?   What should we be doing collectively and individually about this epidemic?


  1. Hi Kay,
    Please don't left out Japan! Japan, (still 3rd in the world) is placed in 163 and France is 128. I know you want to focus on France, but there are many western foods are available in Japan. People do eat them and still maintain their weight. mi

  2. Hi Mi,

    Yes, you're right. Japan has a much lower rate of overweight and obesity than other developed countries. How do people in Japan incorporate western foods and still maintain their weight?

    Last year, when I attended a conference on obesity, a speaker remarked about an interesting practice in Japan. Reportedly, people in Japan stop eating a meal when they are 80% full. Is this true based on your experience?

    Thanks for your comment!


  3. Hi Kay,
    "Eat only 80% before you get full" or eat moderately is one of Japanese very old homely adages. Don't know how many people still take this seriously though.

    As you probable already know, they eat more variety of dark colored vegetables, more variety of fruits compare to people here. French people also eat more variety of vegetables and fruits.

    Japanese people take bath everyday usually. Taking bath has similar affect of getting into a sauna or affect of a little exercise. Also they walk more distance than Americans as French people do. There are more stairs in public places in Japan. (Not friendly for those who have problem with walking.)

    Traditionally, Japanese don't eat sweet meals at the breakfast as their first meal. Many people do eat breads, but they don't eat the cereals or the pancakes with syrup in the morning. If you started a day with sweets, often times your body craves more sugar later on. (Although a sugar is good for your brain!)

    My friend from France and I talked about similar issues many times and she said something very interesting thing recently. Young French people's weight have changed significantly after they've adapted American drinks. (=sodas!) Soda could mimic the level of the sweetness.

    I've also noticed that the kids in the U.S. are giving way too much sweet drinks. Even natural juices contain a lot of calories. In Japan, there are non sweet and non fatty drinks available. Green tea is well known even here, but there is another popular one. It's made with roasted barley, is known for a good summer time tea. I hear kids love this. And it is naturally non sweetened and non caffeine drink. People in Japan will grow up getting use to the non sweet taste drinks. I think this is the biggest difference between here and there.

    Try to watch the consumption of sweet drinks when you get to France. Not alcohol consumption, but soft drinks. There isn't much scientific studies have done about this yet, you might find some great answers we all are looking for a long time.

    Have a safe and wonderful trip!

  4. Hi Mi,

    You make an interesting point about sweet drinks. Sweetened beverages as sodas, energy, and sports drinks are among the top sources of calories in the US for persons ages 2 plus. These drinks rank 4th among the top 25 sources of energy listed in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.

    Thanks for your comment and your wishes.

    All the best in joy and health,


  5. It seems obvious to me that soft drinks with their corn syrup are certainly contributing excess calories to the American diet in huge quantities.

    Ready availability of ready-to-eat foods is likely another cause. As I increase the amount of fresh, local food I eat, I notice the resistance among my friends and colleagues to washing, chopping and cooking real veggies.

    Enjoy the splendid markets in la belle France!

  6. Thanks Patrise for your observations.

    Yes, some produce takes a little work to wash and chop. Frozen varieties can take much of this work away. I'm also seeing more items for sale pre-chopped like butternut squash (a real timesaver).

    Thanks for the wishes. The open markets or marches are a major attraction for us!

    Yours in health and joy!