Diet, Lifestyle, and Stress: America VS Europe
By Katelyn Moran, GA Writer
Europeans are often thought of as healthier and thinner than Americans, with overall lower obesity rates throughout the continent. An estimated 35.3% of adults in the U.S. are obese while only 16.6% of adults in Europe are reported as obese *. It’s a simple fact, but why is that?
Let’s compare some interesting facts I have learned from living on both continents: our typical diets, way of living, and stress levels.
Diet: In America, there is a heavy emphasis on quick and easy. We want everything at warp speed and are always in a rush. Most diets consist of a lot of processed and packaged foods because the average person doesn’t “have time” to prepare fresh ingredients and sit down to enjoy it. On every busy corner you are bound to find at least one fast food restaurant, and overall it is more expensive to eat fresh and healthy food than it is to eat cheap and high calorie food.
In Europe, every meal is a special occasion. You should prepare to spend a few hours enjoying your meal, as it is a social experience as well as food experience. There are a few fast food restaurants here and there but not at the sheer volume of which they exist in America. Portion sizes are much smaller, and it is very common to find small shops and stands selling fruit and vegetables for very cheap all over the place. In Mediterranean countries like Italy, the diet consists of healthy fats and a daily glass of wine which is shown to improve heart health.
Lifestyle: In America, the focus is working and making money. We don’t make time for home cooked lunches and dinners as much as we would want to because there are constant deadlines and more work to do. We drive everywhere, and have easy access to driving services, public transportation, and don’t typically want to spend time walking when we can get where we are going in a car much faster. To make it worse, an estimated 75-80% of Americans work sedentary jobs.
In Europe the emphasis is placed less on working than it is in America. People are not usually in a rush, and being active is the norm. In countries like Switzerland, there are mountains where residents enjoy winter sports year round. Life moves at a slower pace, and people walk everywhere. Two of the countries with the highest number of bikes per capita in the world exist in Europe: the Netherlands, and Denmark.
Stress: In America high blood pressure and anxiety are commonplace. Like I said before, work is the focal point and because of that so is stress. Studies have shown that higher stress means higher levels of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is the stress hormone that in higher quantities can cause fat gain or make it more difficult to lose fat. Stress also contributes to less sleep, and generally lower levels of perceived happiness. In American culture rest and relaxation is a special treat, not something that is experienced or normal for day to day life. Paid time off in the U.S. is notorious for being very skimpy compared to other countries. There is no country wide mandate for the number of days employees are given, and there are an average of 6 days given for observance of public holidays.
In Europe, specifically Spain for example, there is a little something called "siesta" during which all the shops and businesses close down in the middle of the work day. It is time to relax, be with family, and enjoy lunch. Paid vacation time in the E.U. is set to a minimum of 20 days, and there are even more generous countries with 25+ days given for paid time off. The average for public and bank holidays given to employees varies across the continent, but in Spain employees are given 14 days paid holiday.
So it stands to reason that living abroad in Europe might lead to living your healthiest life. Or, you can take a page from the European book and start adding in some more walking, smaller portion sizes, a glass of wine every day, and monitor your stress levels daily.
*Obesity data from a 2014 study of global obesity rates via OECD.org