As we travel we encounter countless American stereotypes and at the top of the list is the idea that Americans are overweight. While we can’t argue with that assessment, we’ve noticed this isn’t just an American problem. Obesity is a global epidemic.
America is the healthiest country in the world. America is the fittest country on earth. Ever heard someone say this? Probably not, but I say to other countries: I challenge your 25, 50, or 100 million healthiest people to a race. I assure you, we’ll run circles around any other large country’s population. Millions of Americans have completed marathons, triathlons, and casually do sports activities. While obesity statistics are what people talk about, how about Physical Inactivity where the USA is towards the bottom? We do have a problem with being overweight, but there is a reason we talk about it: we don’t like to be overweight.
Ready to run even on vacation, that’s how you combat weight gain.
It’s the reverse in many other countries, being overweight is a sign of prosperity, a point of pride. Fat children are seen as a parent doing good, they are able to feed their children well. Having been a generation or two removed from poverty, these parents are rightly proud of being able to plump up their children in ways that were inconceivable in years past. Sadly though they have no way to counter the expanding waistlines. Bike paths aren’t being carved through their cities, organized sports don’t exist, and fitness isn’t a priority, actually it’s a bad thing.
Being physically active is something for the poor in many countries, those who have to do it. Those that can sit on their butts because they can, drive cars when they could have walked, and are an ever-growing group. Having heard all the statements about Americans being fat, nothing has surprised me more than the fact that everywhere other than North Korea people are fat. Obesity is a global epidemic and it will require substantial effort to counter-act. In the end, Americanization such as adding organized sports, free recreational spaces, and promoting skinny as sexy is what much of the world needs.
People watching is one of my favorite activities, the power of observation has brought me many epiphanies on this trip. Paramount among them is that obesity is a global health problem. Fat people are found all over the world, this is not an issue reserved for developed countries, Western societies or Americans. Every country we have visited has convinced me that obesity is more of a problem than hunger and malnutrition. The scary part is that statistics back me up.
The two of us sharing a huge plat of mansaf in Jordan, definitely a dish made for two, yet not very often shared.
While 870 million people remain hungry, the world confronts a double burden of malnutrition: 1.4 billion people are dealing with the consequences of overweight and obesity according to a recent U.N. report. The worst part is as I try the local delicacies it’s easy to see how with so much inactivity, the world needs to go on a diet. Portion size is not an American problem, heaping spoonfuls of rice and endless chapatis are trade marks of Indian meals and I dare you to eat an entire helping of Jordanian Mansaf yourself. The food that most of the world eats was created to fuel people through long days of hard labor, which isn’t how most people spend their time anymore.
I’m not here to defend Americans ever-expanding waistlines, but it’s important for everyone to realize what a huge issue this is the world over. It is increasingly easy to get fat instead of stay thin in most places on earth. This fact is alarming and yet it seems that obesity is still treated like an American-only problem. Regardless of where you are and what you do, it is important to control consumption and be aware of lifestyle choices that lead to what is becoming a grim statistic about obesity globally.