Why is there a stereotype of Americans being fat compared to Europeans?

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In summary, the conversation discusses the stereotype of Americans being fat in Europe and the possible reasons for this phenomenon. The speaker first considers food and exercise as potential factors, but ultimately concludes that the difference lies in leisure time. Europeans tend to work fewer hours and have more time for active hobbies, while Americans are often too tired to do anything besides watch TV. The conversation also touches on the economic success of America and the societal emphasis on money and productivity.
  • #71
LOL! I don't consider Michigan to be East! I grew up on the East Coast and consider Michigan to be the midwest. Americans tend to be fatter in the middle...meaning the middle states. It seems the two coasts are similar in terms of attitudes about diet and exercise, and everything in between is very different from that. I currently live in the midwest and am shocked and appalled at the number of overweight and obese people I see everywhere! And where can I always count on seeing a cluster of obese people? In the frozen food section of the grocery store. I suspect therein lies the problem. There is a vast availability of pre-packaged, processed, prepared food in the US. That stuff is amazingly high in fat and calories (I just can't even stomach it). I actually walked down an aisle in the grocery store the other day that I rarely walk through, and noticed there is now half an aisle of things like "hamburger helper", which is basically fattening stuff to add to your meat. Why does hamburger need help? Sure, I've heard of it before, but I must have been living in a vacuum or something because I never realized there was more than one kind.

I've visited Europe only twice (once was Britain if they count themselves as Europe ;-)), but I do think the portions are much smaller there (as in, normal sized portions, unlike the meals they serve in restaurants here that I can usually take home enough leftovers for two more meals...appetizers are enough for a full meal for me). Plus, I didn't get the impression that the Europeans ate as many meals in restaurants as Americans do (well, except the Indian restaurants after going to the pub in Britain).

So, I think it's simple, Americans eat too much junk. They also don't seem to count sodas or other sugar-filled drinks toward their daily caloric consumption, so they'll eat a small meal and then follow with a 20 oz soda (or worse, one of those gallon pails with a straw of sugar-stuff from the local convenience store...I don't even know how that volume of liquid can fit into one's stomach). I've seen children walking around with not a bottle of water or a half pint of milk, not even just a can of soda, which I already think is too much for a child, but an entire 2 liter bottle of soda to drink while out walking and playing with friends (and then we wonder why they can't sit still and pay attention in school when they are filled with sugar and caffeine!). What do I see people putting onto the conveyor at the check-out line for the grocery store? Two loaves of white bread, two cases of soda, a few 2 L bottles of fruit drinks (not just juice, but the sugary drinks), two or three boxes of sugary cereals, a package of bacon or sausage, several boxes of frozen dinners, frozen pizzas, frozen breakfast foods (like pancakes or waffles), maybe a bag of frozen french fries, a pile of deli meats, and a couple bags of potato chips (those are crisps to the Brits here) or pretzels, and got to have a bag of cookies too. You'd be lucky to see a fresh vegetable, or even a bag of frozen vegetables (most likely to be corn, which is probably more a starch than a vegetable in the state it's picked to be frozen). Sometimes there is real meat...some chicken or ground beef to get mixed with that hamburger helper stuff. Oh, don't forget the American cheese (I just don't trust cheese that doesn't require refrigeration). And of course they then have that 1/2 gallon of skim milk, as if the milk was their problem. The truly amazing thing is I suspect many of these people have accomplished the seemingly impossible, to be overweight and malnourished at the same time. Unless they are taking vitamin supplements, I can't see how that food they are buying results in any sort of balanced diet. I don't have any evidence for that, it's just hard to believe otherwise based on what I see people buying.
 
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  • #72
IronGeek said:
I'm an American who owns a car, yet bicycles 20 miles to work & back each day. I wouldn't have it any other way! I *feel* better when I'm fit; the air tastes better!

Why are Americans fat? Well, it's true; many are. Mostly they are in the eastern states, Michigan in particular. The folks there eat gross amounts of food, primarily milk, hamburger, sodas, & doughnuts; it's horrifying! Healthy food is virtually non-existant there! What's more, people there are *beyond* lazy: they *never* exercise, and they even have little electric carts to shuttle their unwieldy flesh-anchors around the shopping mall! :rolleyes: Too much effort to walk & shop, I guess...

Give me a bicycle girl *anyday*! :devil:

Ok being a native Michigander, I have to defend my home state. First, you're generalizing. There are fat people there and skinny people there, and everything in between, just like anywhere on earth. you're generalizing. I see fat people in California too. People eat doughnuts hamburgers and sodas here in California as well. The difference is that people here get out more because of the weather, and thus get more exercise.
 
  • #73
My trip to Michigan...

...was, admittedly, brief & limited. But the family I visited just shocked me! :eek: Sitting at the dinner table, I felt like I was on a feedlot! And I'm a big eater too!

Sorry for singling out Michigan, (to Californians, everything past Colorado is "eastern" :-p) but that's just where my most vivid encounter of American gluttony arose. That's all...

IG


Zantra said:
Ok being a native Michigander, I have to defend my home state. First, you're generalizing. There are fat people there and skinny people there, and everything in between, just like anywhere on earth. you're generalizing. I see fat people in California too. People eat doughnuts hamburgers and sodas here in California as well. The difference is that people here get out more because of the weather, and thus get more exercise.
 
  • #74
I think it is just a representation of increasing urbanization... this study looks at urban Mexican (still living in native Mexico) vs. Mexican Americans and the obesity rates are similar. Thus, I don't think this is just a matter of becoming "Americanized". http://www.obesityresearch.org/cgi/content/full/8/2/179#T2

I think, overall, we also have piss poor mass transportation, compared to Europe (which would involve some minimal form of passive excercise walking to the train/metro station daily) instead, our highways and roads connect workplaces and shopping areas and we provide very little in terms of accessable mass transportation. I look at Atlanta vs. New York subways system. It is a joke down here.

I also agree that we need to bike more, Iron Geek. I bike commute 30 miles 3 days a week and drive the rest. Welcome fellow bike commuter!
 
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  • #75
Regarding biking to work...that's easy when you live in urban areas or near universities where there are plenty of bike paths and bike lanes on the roads. The rest of the US roads are just not meant to be shared with bikes. I think people on bikes are truly risking their neck to get out onto many roads that are too narrow for a car to get around them and no shoulder to get out of the way (of course when driving, I also wish they'd get out of the middle of the road if the speed limit is over 20 mph...unless they're training for the Tour de France, they aren't going to be peddling that fast and I want to be able to pass them safely!).

I used to live in Michigan, and it's like many parts of the midwest, there does seem to be a much higher proportion of overweight people there, and a noticeably higher proportion of obese people. I think it has a lot to do with the selections in the grocery stores there. When living there, I found it next to impossible to find decent food in the grocery stores. Things I considered perfectly ordinary foods could only be found in the expensive health food stores! I had no problem staying thin because I just couldn't find food I was willing to eat.

I really don't think it's just mass transportation to blame though. Poor food choices is still a big problem. And people do tend to be just plain lazy. I live about two and a half blocks from a video rental store. My neighbors would drive there rather than walk the two blocks! Recently, there was a festival near my house, about a half mile walk...I didn't even think twice about inviting my friends to park at my house (no street parking much closer) and walk over with me. My Brazilian friends didn't mind at all, this seemed a great idea. My American friends would rather pay to park in the parking lot next to the festival. But I grew up in a family where my grandfather would walk to the grocery store if they just needed one or two items. They only drove if they needed to do the month's shopping to stock up on heavy items like canned goods and laundry detergents.

I also think people on the coasts burn more energy walking than people in the midwest...it's a lifestyle difference. On the east coast (and when around my Californian friends too), I walk at about an average to slower pace (short legs...can't walk any faster)...now that I'm in the midwest, people are always telling me to slow down, don't be in such a hurry. I'm not in a hurry, I just can't physically make myself walk as excruciatingly slowly as the people around here walk! It just feels unnatural to me.
 
  • #76
I don't see the deal with keeping weight down. It may just be my fantastic teenage high metabolism, but I work about 12 hour days (9.15-21.45) approx. and every day I eat something unhealthy (chips and sausage) because that is just across the road from work. And the end of my long day, I have a couple of pints at the local pub and then a kebab from the takeaway. The most exercise I get is the 10 minute walk to and from work. I am 5'10" (about 178cm) and weigh about 70-75kg. Easy peasy.
 
  • #77
Moonbear said:
I used to live in Michigan, and it's like many parts of the midwest, there does seem to be a much higher proportion of overweight people there, and a noticeably higher proportion of obese people. I think it has a lot to do with the selections in the grocery stores there. When living there, I found it next to impossible to find decent food in the grocery stores. Things I considered perfectly ordinary foods could only be found in the expensive health food stores! I had no problem staying thin because I just couldn't find food I was willing to eat.
You mean, not all of the US is like that? :big relief: the only two sections you'd ever find me in was the produce and meat, well actually.. just the meat and milk/juice section.. I had to drive like 15 miles to find a store where they actually sold fresh produce, and I was living in the middle of an urban area :eek: actually, that store was on the infamous '8 mile road' in Detroit :rolleyes:

I just couldn't stomach all the other products they were selling in the aisles, and everything is soooo sweet I actually imported all my cheese and candy and cookies and stuff :biggrin: Moonbear, if you like good cheese try to get some aged 'Old Amsterdam', it's a little pricey but oh, very yummy! :approve:

After a while I started discovering all the Russian, Chinese and Indian shops, it's so much fun shopping in those :biggrin:
 
  • #78
jimmy p said:
I don't see the deal with keeping weight down. It may just be my fantastic teenage high metabolism,
I think it is jimmyp, actually I'm sure.. together with your long days and.. :eek: not so balanced diet! (don't forget the fruits and vegetables!)
 
  • #79
Regarding bike commuting as being safe:

http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/bc/perspective.htm


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration uses a fatality rate per million population to state that 2.51 cyclists were killed per one million population in 2000 - the same figure for pedestrians would be 17.3 people per million and for motor vehicle fatalities the figure is closer to 127 people per million."


Wear something highly visible, get good front and rear lights at night, a mirror and helmet and you'll be fine. You're actually INCREASING your life span by getting some exercise instead of sitting in the car accumulating health problems due to inactivity.
But all these accidents resulting in death (and I like death stats instead of injury stats because the injury of death is a certain state no one can argue about, where an "injury" can be any little thing), it's not what you do, but how you do it. If you were to drive your car the wrong way up a one way street and hit another car, most would say the problem would be what you did, not that you were in a car, but if you did the same thing on a bicycle, most people would say the problem was that you were on a bike. There's discrimination in thinking towards bikes because so few ride them.

The best way to prevent any accident is to ride safely and look out for others using the road that don't. The vast majority of accidents in cycling are caused by basic rules of the road being ignored.

The public health community is now recognizing that lack of physical activity, and a decline in bicycling and walking in particular, is a major contributor to the more than 300,000 premature deaths caused by heart attacks and strokes - this number dwarfs the 40,000 annual deaths due to motor vehicle crashes and the relatively small 728 bicyclist deaths.

Unfortunately, I live in a city ranked second worst city in america to bike in (No bike lanes and rednecks run me off the road and throw beer bottles all the time) so it does take a lot of effort but I think I would not be as healthy if I didn't.
 
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  • #80
Monique said:
I think it is jimmyp, actually I'm sure.. together with your long days and.. :eek: not so balanced diet! (don't forget the fruits and vegetables!)


:-p But it tastes so good! How long does "teenage metabolism" take before it starts to slow down?
 
  • #81
Monique said:
You mean, not all of the US is like that? :big relief: the only two sections you'd ever find me in was the produce and meat, well actually.. just the meat and milk/juice section.. I had to drive like 15 miles to find a store where they actually sold fresh produce, and I was living in the middle of an urban area :eek: actually, that store was on the infamous '8 mile road' in Detroit :rolleyes:

I just couldn't stomach all the other products they were selling in the aisles, and everything is soooo sweet I actually imported all my cheese and candy and cookies and stuff :biggrin: Moonbear, if you like good cheese try to get some aged 'Old Amsterdam', it's a little pricey but oh, very yummy! :approve:

After a while I started discovering all the Russian, Chinese and Indian shops, it's so much fun shopping in those :biggrin:

Nope, the whole US is not like that. You can breathe a sigh of relief should you decide to return. It wasn't until my last year in MI that I discovered those ethnic groceries near Detroit (they were mostly in Dearborn, weren't they?). But, that was pretty far out of my way. I did manage to live near a large farmer's market where I could get produce, but even that was something I just found by accident while driving aimlessly one day in hopes of finding something new.

Where I am now, the selection varies greatly from store to store. The two stores closest to the university campus are best, probably because they have a more ethnically diverse clientele to cater to, so there's more demand for the types of food I like. And of course it makes it easy for me to just stop and do my shopping on the way home. We have a HUGE ethnic/farmer's market type store (you can find ANYTHING there, and if you can't, you can order it) that's about 20 minutes from where I live by car, so I visit there every so often when I'm really dying for more variety. When I was in MI, it got so bad sometimes that when I visited relatives in NJ, I'd pack up my car with cases of food, or beg my sister to ship some things to me that I was just dying to have. I think the East Coast has much more of an overall European influence, at least in the Northeast, probably partly due to immigration and partly due to tourism around New York City. You don't really get many tourists in Detroit.

Adrenaline, for those biking fatalities, which category do cars running over bicyclists fall into? Do they put them under bicycle fatalities or car fatalities? That's the part I get nervous about with bicycling. I live too far from work to bike anyway, and with a VERY steep and long hill along the way that I know would kill me (and that's where I'd get run over too...the drivers on that road hardly pay attention to other cars let alone pedestrians or bikes), but I walk whenever I can.

JimmyP, I think you've got a few good years left of that metabolism :wink: but it's better to start watching what you're eating BEFORE it starts slowing down rather than noticing after you've gained the 20 lbs. :-p
 
  • #82
I live in Florida, and we have no shortage of fatties here. It's not just the midwest. I'm pretty sure that the USA is the fattest country in the world, barring perhaps some small Pacific island nations.
 
  • #83
Hmmm...Florida is always such a difficult state to characterize in terms of population. It seems people from everywhere else in the country move there when they retire, so you do have a large population of older people with slower metabolisms there. The younger people I've met in FL seem reasonably thin (though not necessarily physically fit).
 
  • #84
There are plenty of non-grey, highly overweight people. The percentage of people in their teens and twenties who are that big is lower than for older people, I estimate, but still way above a decent level.
 

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