20 Jul 2013

America's Obesity & France's Fast-Food Addiction

This past year in Paris, I've been surrounded by slim women, in fact, slim people in general. I don't know how they do it - good genes perhaps? But the image of the slender, elegant Parisian woman holds a lot of truth. And when I'm out there working up a sweat as I jog around the Eiffel Tower, I'm stunned to see that it's mainly men who are exercising, not women. Maybe the women exercise within the comfort of their own home, but I have a feeling that a combination of chain smoking, small portions and good genes are the real reason behind their slim physiques.  And maybe the fact that on every advert there's a health warning. If there's anyone telling you to eat your five portions of fruit and veg a day or not to snack, it's the French.

My first stop this summer on my American adventure was a six hour layover in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since the layover was so long, we decided to pass the time in the largest mall in America with its very own indoor theme park. And I'll tell you now - it was something else. Or, as I like to say, sumfin' else.

As we wandered around the mall, the sheer size of the people we came across was worrying. Maybe malls are social hubs for overweight people, but I couldn't get my head around it. Fat kids licking ice-creams larger than their heads or people so overweight that they had to be pushed around in wheelchairs because they couldn't walk. At one point, I saw a man sitting on a bench with his XXXXL t-shirt which still didn't fit him and I noticed his leg was purple and swollen. When he got up to move, I felt pain come over me as I saw the large globules of fat bursting out of the back of his knees. Surely that cannot be comfortable. His head looked so small in proportion to the rest of his body that if I'd have seen a photograph of him, I'd have thought he'd been photoshopped.

From beer bellies to muffin tops, I kid you not when I say that 90% of the people we saw were overweight, and many of them clinically obese. In that moment I envisaged a world where everyone was fat; really fat. Where fitness died out and the average person didn't move from their couch because they had everything they needed within their reach. Fridges walked towards them with the click of a remote; people ate and slept in the same seat because they couldn't lift themselves out of it. Automated cranes heaved people from one location to the next.

And another shocking discovery in this mall was the fashion, or lack of it. I know this wasn't Beverley Hills but where the hell is Gok Wan when you need him. Neon trainers and oversized basketball shorts are never a good look. Neither are tight tops which cling painfully over heaving guts, butt cracks on display and cankles: the lack of calf/ankle definition where the two seem to merge.

The root of it? Oh where to begin. Free soda refills in every restaurant, the continual fast-food frenzy, the HUGE portions. I remember on our trip to Alaska a few years ago when I ordered a cooked breakfast. My plate arrived and on it I had about 3 fried eggs, 6 rashers of bacon, 4 sausages....and to top it all off, a stack of four large pancakes on the side covered in lashings of butter and Canadian maple syrup. If that doesn't clog your arteries just thinking about it, then I don't know what will. I think it's safe to say that I didn't even manage a third of it. And even just a few days ago when I went for a single scoop of ice-cream in a cafe, the scoop was so large that it could have easily passed for a triple scoop in the UK where in comparison, the portions seem stingy.

And I'm not kidding when I say that being fat costs you, and not just because of the amount of food you're getting through. Samoa Air for example charges passengers per kilo. Thus, a 60kg person will be paying a much lighter airfare than the 120kg person sitting across the aisle.  Fancy a future where along with baggage, passengers also have to hit the scales to determine their airfare. And before people start getting sensitive over the issue, "Every extra kilogram means more expensive jet fuel must be burned, which leads to CO2 emissions and financial cost" according to Dr Ian Yeoman.  

The sad reality is that the fast-food frenzy has made its way to France, too. A recent survey showed that more French people go out for fast-food than to your typical French cafe or bistro. The shocking discovery shows that 54% of all restaurant sales in France comes from fast-food chains. Part of me is not surprised at all; many (male) colleagues at work spend 4 out of 5 lunches a week at McDonalds, and don't bat an eyelid. For the country which gave the world "gastronomie", things aren't looking too great. In fact, reports have shown that after the U.S., France is the largest consumer of fast-food. But the pressing question is: How do the French stay so slim?

I appreciate that certain medical conditions mean that being overweight is not a choice. But I'd be very surprised to hear that all 75% of overweight individuals in the U.S. suffer from medical conditions which mean that being overweight is uncontrollable.

Now, would someone please go get me a corn dog with extra mayo, a side of fries and a large soda.  I'm starving. 

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