obesity_worldwide2 English-speaking countries hold the sad record of having the highest overweight and obesity rates in the world (compared to the other most spoken languages in the world) let’s take closer look at it. Listed here are the languages(number of native speakers), followed by (some) countries they’re spoken in and (overweight rate/ obesity rate)

  • Mandarin(935 million): China(29/02), Taiwan(40/19), Singapore(32/6)
  • Spanish (387 million): Spain(55/17), Mexico(70,30), Argentina(57/18), Panama(52/16), Costa Rica(62/21), Colombia(52/16), Chile(60/22)
  • English (365 million): United States(68/34), United Kingdom(60/25), Ireland(61/22), Australia(61/25), New Zealand(63/27), Canada(61/23), South Africa(53/21)
  • Hindi (295 million): India(16/01)
  • Arabic (280 million):United Arab Emirates(63/20), Iraq(30/10), Egypt (66/25), Lebanon(57/21), Tunisia(60/21)

Yes most countries are getting bigger, but we’re the masters of it. Even though the diet industry is booming and we all seem to be trying to lose weight.With the exception of Mexico and some little countries, in which being big is considered beautiful, english speaking countries dominate the list of the fattest countries in the world. America leads the list of countries that have comparable living standards and the two english speaking in europe are the biggest on their continent.  The trend is so obvious that it can’t be coincidence.

Now of course it’s not that speaking english that is making you fat, but you’ll see that most english speaking countries share eating habits , that are not common in other countries.

What’s making us fat?

In short: Food. The wrong food and too much of it

Agriculture

During The Great Depression, the U.S government introduced several programs to save the agriculture that was the verge of collapsing. But over time, small, usually family run farms, were replaced by big agro businesses. So that today, all that tax money, intended to help struggling farmers, goes to big cooperations that mass produce food. Over 90% of all farms(in the U.S) belong to 4 big food companys. 30% of all subsidizes goes into corn, that’s why high fructose corn syrup(HFCS) is a much cheaper sweetener than sugar.

HFCS is often blamed for the increasing obesity rates since the 1970s. Today it is still the prefered sweetener for food manufactors and that’s not a coincidence.  A Princeton study found that rats that consumed HFCS,without exception, showed signs of obesity such as excess belly fat. Rats that were fed an equal amount of sugar or fructose, only gained a insignificant amount of weight. Another study (conducted by the Yale University)  suggests that HFCS impacts the feelings of hunger and appetite, leading us to overeat. In fact it’s so bad for us that EU put a production limit of 303000 tons per year on it. In comparison the EU produces 18.6 billion tons of sugar a year and the U.S produces over 9 million tons of HFCS every year.

And yet on average, we eat 60lbs of it every year, plus another 50lbs of sugar. And that’s not all. The U.S. government still encourages the mass production of corn and soybeans by subsidizing the relevant areas. That’s i.e why a Twinkie is cheaper in production than a carrot. You already paid for a lot of the ingredients with your tax money and food company’s can make a huge profit of it.

Even though mass production is also prelevant in europe, during the past 20 years the EU introduced a number of reforms for better hygiene, animal welfare (with the exception of Halal and Kosher food) and a change to subsidise seasonal fruit and vegetables. Farmers are also only paid directly, leaving no space for big agro businesses.

The Food Industry and Supermarkets

We love our supermarkets. They have everything, all year-long, even though 60 years ago they were basically nonexistent.
But supermarkets are only interested in making profit and they do that by selling us more (in particular high revenue and usually highly processed products). That’s why you see so many “Buy one, get one free” or “Half price” deals, that are sponsored by the food industry and exclusively used on junk food. There are marketing companies that study exactly how we behave in the supermarkets, where our eyes go first and what kind of offers we go for. The treats are no longer just in the cookies and candy isles, but also at the end of the vegetables isles, the dairy isles, the meat isles, or everywhere else they can squeeze them in.On the other hand they found new ways of making us pay more for fruit and vegetables by i.e. selling us pre cut or pre washed fruits and veggies, that can be up to 10 times as expensive as the original. In some american supermarkets it’s even hard to find just plain, fresh salad head.Instead they only have the pre packed version for more than 3 times the price. No wonder we’re buying and eating so much junk.

So let’s look back 60 years. The average family would have a home cooked meal every night consisting out of carbs(usually potatoes or pasta) with one or two seasonal vegetables. Once or twice week they would have a special treat and buy some meat (like a whole chicken, steak or fish) or serve a fancy dessert. Fast Forward 60 years, meat and fancy desserts are almost part of our staple diet. And they’re likely to come precooked, prepared, papacked, highly processed and ready to eat. A muffin or piece of chocolate or cake is no longer a rare treat but almost enjoyed daily.
But that’s not even the worst of it. We put sugar into everything, even where you don’t expect it. We put (added sugar) into milk, beer, bread, wine, plain yoghurt, baked beans, canned tomatoes…… Other countries, just don’t, so by seemingly eating the same products they consume fewer calories. In most of those products, you won’t even taste any sugar, in a can of baked beans for example you’ll find 25g of sugar.

But even that’s not the worst of it. Junk food is addictive. Researchers from the Princeton University , The University of Florida, Scribbs Research Institue, Yale University  and Boston children’s Hospital  conducted independent studies that all lead to the same result: Through a combination of sugar, fat, salt and chemicals fast food can be addictive, similar to heroin.

And it gets even worse:

Big Food industries spend millions on marketing. Companies whose products have almost no nutritional value(like McDonald’s or Coca-Cola) purposely sponsor sport events such as the Olympics, Superbowl and various rugby and soccer leagues, just to have their brand associated with health and athleticism(halo effect). Athletes get insane wages to advertise food, they obviously never eat. In an increasingly weight conscious society, food manufactors need to respond for the demand of more healthy food. And they do, unfortunately not the way one would expect. Even though they market diet foods as low-calorie and healthy, they’re usually not.

But what is the rest of the world doing different?

Well go into any supermarket in a non english speaking country. You’ll see an amazing difference. Fruit and Vegetables are seasonal and cheap. There are little to no prepacked fruits. Treats stay limited to the junk food aisle or the discoun aisle, but aren’t all over the place. The amount of prepacked food is kept to a minimum. You’ll only find a handful of prepacked sandwiches, pasta or potato salads in the fridges, but even those are rare.

Our Habits

Probably the worst and biggest of them all. Contrary to other countries we have completley lost the ability to recongnize food as what it is. Yes other countries have processed food too, but they respond differently to it. Things like Fruit Loops or Kellogs NutriGrain are still widley seen as treat, not notritious lunch. Most meals are still homecooked and not eaten out or prepackaged. Salad dressings for example are usually done at home and not bought

Most of us don’t even know what real bread, that is made without bleeched flour, sugar and chemicals, looks like. In fact what we sell has bread is so essentially different from what other countries are used to that they now have 2 names. One name in their native language to describe real, little processed, traditional bread and one english name (usually toast or bread) to describe the kind of bread we have here.
The perception of what is healthy and what is not is also different. Try i.e. to explain an italian person that peanut butter is healthy food, you won’t get very far.

Another thing is that a lot of countries associate food with culture, so it’s important for them to pass it down to their children. Somehow we don’t feel that way, with the exeption of britian, there is hardly a traditional american or australian dish.

It’s not all better eating habits though. Truth is the whole industrialised world is getting bigger due to eating an more american diet and some foreign governments have given clear incentives to their people to remain healhty. Japan for example puts financial penalties on companies with too many overweight empolyees. Sweden, that already has high taxes on alcohol and tabacco, may give in to it’s peoples demand to raise taxes on unhealthy food and lower them on healthy options.