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Fat Parisians?

  • l

So, uh, where are the fat Parisians?

We just returned are were flumoxed as to how everyone appeared +/- 10% of their ideal bodyweight, yet were constantly observed cramming brioche or foie gras or steak frites down their pieholes, errr, croisant-holes. Seriously, I'm curious if anyone has any insight. Various theroy's fronted were;

A) Coffee/caffiene make their metabolism run faster
B) Lots of walking, catching the Metro, etc.
C) Some sort of bizzare high protien/Atkins diet.
D) They all are on meth.

Anyone one have any ideas?


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  1. Red wine and lots of walking. The fat Parisians are all in their apartments eating camembert and charcuterie, which they have delivered. Seriously, I thought about the same thing, when I visited Paris. While I was there, I ate really, really well, but I did so much walking that I didn't gain any weight.

    24 Replies
    1. re: zora

      Years ago I gained 10 travelling in England. Lost it when I went to Paris. I concluded that the food in Paris was so much better (everywhere, anywhere) that it took less food to satisfy my hunger.

      1. re: saucyknave
        Vital Information

        I have heard the "it's so good, you do not need much theory" before. I do not buy it. For me, when food is really good, I will eat it until I am nearly in pain (and then some). On the other hand, I have nary an appetite when food stinks.

        While I am on the nay-saying, I will also say that I do not buy this thing about the French never snacking. What do you think all of those wonderful pastries and madelines and stuff are for. The afternoon pastry break is just as much a French tradition as the English tea.

        My theory has more to do with the food the French eat, the fact that it is natural, tied to the land and the season and not over processed. It kind of ties into the authentic/tradional dialogue below. I believe that the French of developed a methodology of eating that works (for them). This contrasts with the US, where we are constantly creatingnew food systems, we rely on convience foods so much, and we want to isolate the magic bullets from the whole.


        1. re: Vital Information

          Vital, I think you've got a good point about the land/seasonal/accessibility thing. But I also have been interested in the family/genetic tendencies. Bottom line, when I was in Paris in college, after a short while we could point out the Americans. We looked like a heard of horses and /or buffalo traipsing across this little tiny rues. Me (at 5' 9", and a friend 5" 11") were giants among these tight bodied kinds. We loped through open spaces--and never looked chic like any person on any street in Paris did. And the pastries abounded and no beer/croissant bellys. One of the true mysterious of life.....

          1. re: berkleybabe
            Vital Information

            I do not discount genetics totally, but if it was genetics, why would not the same body type pre-dominate in French Canada?


            1. re: Vital Information

              first of all, let's dispel two myths - that there are no fat parisians and that the french don't snack. there are and they do.sure there aren't as many obese people in paris but there are plenty of potbellies. a favourite afterschool snack - that parents often share with their kids - is a piece of chocolate bar sandwiched in a piece of preferably warm baguette. a chocolate bar sandwich if you will.

              having said that, even in a big city like paris, it's not nearly as easy to get a fatty snack or meal to go as it is in the states. sure there are the crepes, paninis and sandwich grecques, but they usually take a little more time than say a hot dog or slice of pizza.

              and there is obviously a difference in genetics that varies from region to region. a few years ago we travelled throughout western europe and it was easy to see how people looked similar in one place as they did from another. and i'm not just talking about the obvious difference between the scots and the italians but say the more subtle differences amongst the french in provence, from the alps and paris.

              people in other parts of the world seem much more understanding of this genetic difference. it seems to be a particularly american denial that we may just in fact be quite different despite our wish for equality.

              1. re: louisa

                We should remember that certain "genetic" features turn out to be diet-related. For instance, the average height of the Japanese has increased enormously following the influence of the occident on their white-rice-based diet.

                And often there are environmental factors that we are unaware of. For instance, the macrobiotic diet followed without mishap by many in India has often proved harmful, even fatal, in the US. The simple reason is that in India the grains were so infested that they contained sufficient insect protein to supplement the carbohydrate.

                1. re: John Whiting

                  John, Yours is an interesting comment. But Id be interested in seeing a cite of a scholarly source for the proposition in your last sentence.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    I haven't time to search it out, but these thoughts have been with us at least since Vincent M. Holt's _Why Not Eat Insects?_, first published in 1885. The theme is taken up again by Calvin Schwabe in his _Unmentionable Cuisine_, 1979. All you need to know is that insects are indeed one of the most accessible and efficient sources of protein and that in grains not stored by the compulsively fastidious they are virtually omnipresent.

                    1. re: John Whiting

                      But isn't eating bugs -- or anything alive -- anathema to those who follow that sort of diet? Couldn't it just be that similar to the rice-and-beans combination in the Western hemisphere, their diet contains complementary proteins (rice-and-legume) that eaten together satisfy the body's needs?

                      1. re: CTer

                        "But isn't eating bugs -- or anything alive -- anathema to those who follow that sort of diet?"

                        Followers of a macrobiotic diet are not necessarily Janists. The latter of course happily consumed microscopic living beings which couldn't be seen with the naked eye, simply because they didn't know that they existed.

                        Similarly, much infestation is invisible and can often be detected only by the presence of tiny webs. Where grain storage facilities are primitive, the consumption of large quantities of insect protein is inevitable.

                        1. re: John Whiting

                          I dont believe that many Indians follow a macrobiotic diet (which originated in Japan) or a vegan discipline in any event. I addition to the protein complementation that occurs when both grains and legumes are in the diet, the vegetarian indian diets I am familiar with make significant use of dairy products and, in coastal areas, fish. My vegan daughter has a bit of a hard time in Indian restaurants, even vegetarian ones, for this reason.

                          So I have a really hard time believing that proteins from insects or other pests in the food make a meaningful contribution to nutrition there, except in the most marginal, near-starvation circumstances.

                2. re: louisa

                  americans do not lack the understanding, they "lack" the limited gene pool of a single population

                  1. re: thew

                    It's been more than a generation since the French had a "limited gene pool of a single population."

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      My goodness, if you look at history, the French and all Europeans (and stretching past Central Asia) are a bunch of mongrels - in the sense of genetic mixing.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        I recently saw a paper where they were looking at SNP variations among Europeans. When they did a projection of the differences, to the authors' surprise it looked almost identical to a map of western europe.

                        1. re: jgg13

                          I believe that the relative homogeneity of European populations would make it unlikely to distinguish differences by SNP analysis. Are you saying that variation appeared to be spatially congruent with current national boundaries?

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            By region, not by nations - and even then not perfectly, but the visual effect was pretty striking. I can try to dig up the cite although outside of the "hey that's neat" factor the paper itself wasn't that useful to me so it got deleted pretty quickl.

                      2. re: pikawicca

                        The white people whose ancestors come from within the hexagon are already a pretty varied lot, running from fair skin and hair of the north to the olive tones of the south. Not to mention the immigration from the traditionally Catholic parts of Europe that has been a feature of the country since the industrial revolution made it here, Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe dating from the late 19th Century (besides the already existing population that largely integrated following the Revolution of 1789-99) and the Roma. Immigration from the Maghreb, Africa and the Caribbean boomed starting right after the end of the second world war, with significant Asian immigration starting about a generation later.

                        Anyone with two eyes and half a brain should be able to see that this is a genetically diverse populace.

                        1. re: tmso

                          people like to use genetics as a fallback excuse. "well, everyone in my family is big." you cannot control the size of your frame, but you can monitor and manage what covers it!

              2. re: Vital Information

                "For me, when food is really good, I will eat it until I am nearly in pain (and then some). On the other hand, I have nary an appetite when food stinks."

                Vital, first I'm not talking about food that "stinks" so much as food that doesn't satisfy the body's nutrient need and/or aestheic hunger.

                Second, without denying your response in the face of food, I can say that mine is different from yours. I'm sure our difference is mirrored in others. People's relationship to food rests on the complexity of food and its roles in our lives. We may not even be referring to the same substances as our diets and our notions of "tasty" may be vastly different.

                Take chocolate. Take candy counter chocolate. (It's the chocolate of my childhood. Edible but not satisfying. But confronted with it, I'll eat til it disappears. It's as if there's some ingredient that stimulates me to eat another--the salt? memories?) But give me some really good chocolate and I can eat some, leave some. The fuller taste of good chocolate satisfies my craving for the chocolate taste because it delivers more intese flavor. I recognize that others may like what I do not and be sated by what does not sate me. My experience is that when I eat food that satisfies me, I can eat less food. When I am eating for psychological reasons, bad day, etc., then the game is played by different rules.

                To the extent that one eats for the aesthetic pleasure and nutrition, one can eat less when well fed, though perhaps not everyone does. To the extent that one eats for psychological reasons, then one eats to eat or perhaps evoke a memory or obliterate one, etc.

                Food is a lot like drinking --with added complexity. Some may drink only the best but be satified after only a glass or two. Compulsive drinkers may choose to drink only the best, but drink compulsively. And of course others may simply drink anything in any amount. The range is wide. This is perhaps more true of food with its vastly greater variety of experience.

                To my mind, these elements are at play in the French diet, its role in their lives, and its effect on their waistlines. Other elements have been mentioned in other postings.

                1. re: Vital Information

                  I admit that my experience with regard to this is limited, but I have known several men who had this response to being served good meals. I have never met a woman who did, though. I have observed women who tend to self-consciously limit their portions at the dinner table to a size they feel is "appropriate", then surround themselves with snacks, and munch away for hours, full of guilt at their lack of willpower.

                  I always found it amusing that a boyfriend would be unable to move and groaning in pain because he voluntarily consumed not only his dinner, but a week's worth of lunches at one sitting.

                  1. re: Vital Information

                    Would that your theory were true, but when it comes to weight, the preponderance of science backs that claim that a calorie is a calorie.

                  2. re: zora

                    Me too! Last year we went to Paris, ordered fois gras and creme brulee at almost every meal, skipped our daily gym routin, yet when we got back after two weeks, we didn't gain any weight.

                    I think walking has something to do with it. But there is probably some special magic in the air too!

                  3. I think it's a combo of caffeine, walking and smoking (nicotine being an appetite supressant).

                    1. Take a look at this link. What you describe has been called the "French Paradox".

                      Link: http://www.salon.com/travel/food/feat...

                      1. My own experience corresponds with that of others on this board. See below.

                        Link: http://www.whitings-writings.com/parb...

                        1. I think it also has something to do with heredity.

                          In my family lineage, there is quite a lot of French descent. I look at my nieces and see the long bones and little fatty flesh (unlike the English in us that provides some "plush").

                          1. r
                            Rochelle McCune

                            Below is a link to a recent article about French eating habits.
                            Some highlights are...."just 8% of the French qualify as obese, compared to 33% of Americans. How do the French do it?...The French tend to snack less and savor their meals more slowly -- which could lead to eating less food overall."

                            And the French consume..."60% of their day's calories before 2 p.m., followed later by a small dinner, so they were less likely to sleep on a major calorie cushion. Second,the study found that the French participants didn't snack"

                            Link: http://content.health.msn.com/content...

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Rochelle McCune
                              Brandon Nelson

                              Interesting thought...

                              This follows the boybuilders spin on diet. "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper." I can't thin of a sprt that has a tighter focus on lean body mass.


                              1. re: Brandon Nelson

                                i once had a swiss/french woman recite that exact aphorism to me in french--dejeuner comme un roi, diner comme un prince, souper comme un pauvre.

                                they also eat small portions and smoke a lot. and gourmandise, eating too much and not at the appropriate time, is regarded as a moral deficiency and a social affront.

                                1. re: emily

                                  in my experience, this last sentence is key to what makes americans fat. in most social situations here, over-eating is permissible or smilled upon

                            2. b
                              Brandon Nelson

                              My theory?

                              The French may eat more fat, saturated or otherwise, but the eat much less refined sugar. This gap is shrinking as processed American culture sneeks in. While American kids grow up swilling Coca Cola and and pounding oreos their French peers didn't.

                              Ever notice that certain types of diabetes go hand in hand with weight gain? Sugar has only been a staple of the American diet for the past century, before then it was a luxury. French culinary culture has resisted the sugar fix longer than most. Even their desserts favor richness over sweetness.


                              1. Body weight is a matter of fashion as well as diet, genetics or exercise. Until well into the 20th century, fatness (particularly among males) was considered to be a sign of prosperity -- no wonder when so many peasants were on the edge of starvation. Rachel Landau has pointed out, and will demonstrate at length in her forthcoming culinary history, that much of our talk about healthy peasant diets is a romantic fiction that takes no account of poverty, geography or seasonal variation.

                                In the 18th century, obesity among the French upper classes was so prevelant that Brillat Savarin gives a great deal of space in his _Physiology of Taste_ to its analysis. One of his observations deserves to be carved on the dining-room wall: "Obesity is the result of the learned ability to eat when one is not hungry." I think about it every time I am so unfortunate as to catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror.

                                1. O.K., I vote for meth.

                                  1. my family lived in france on and off for a lrage part of my childhood, and i put it down to small portions of non-processed foods and really well made satisfying pastries. also a lot more walking and good genetics (my whole family is really thin so what do i know tho"

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: umbushi plum

                                      This is my bet, generally. Along with the lack of high-fructose corn sweetener and less reliance on processed foods.

                                      But really there could be something no one has identified well that separates Americans - something in the water, the air, the health treatments from childhood etc. I'm not saying that the American diet isn't in and of itself in need of serious reworking, but who says it's just that? (I eat cleanly, and when I travel despite exercising less there and eating more calories, I often lose 5-10 lbs.)

                                      There was some old study that found migration over long distances was one of the things that matched up with sustained weight loss to weight norms over decades, or some such oddity.

                                    2. If you look at the magazines - at least, at French-language women's magazines - you'll notice all the diet articles. It's a complete and utter myth that the French don't diet. *All* French women (and many of the men) are on a diet. Seriously. Search for "regime" or "maigrir" on google.fr to see how popular diets are.

                                      But Parisians don't diet ALL the time - when they go out, they eat well and they enjoy what they eat. They just don't eat like that for three meals a day, every day. If they eat croissants for breakfast, they'll probably have salad and yogurt for dinner. Or if they eat fois gras and duck confit and creme brulee for dinner, they'll skimp on calories for several days afterwards. It's balance rather than magic or a mysterious paradox.

                                      And, of course, they walk a lot.


                                      1. I have lived in France, and my sister had lived there for more than 15 years. I agree that the walking has a lot to do with along with portion sizes and the general way a meal is eaten- people are more apt to take a proper lunch break and not chow down at their desk. Even the children at school, if they eat at the cafeteria are presented with a three course meal. I do also think that the richness of the food makes it more satisfying so you are more content with a smaller portion.

                                        I will also add that French women do diet. my sister and a french friend of hers joined weight watchers in paris to lose weight after having children. She said the women in the group mostly had 5 kilo to lose- so not very overweight.

                                        1. This is interesting to see the discussion 7 years ago compared to today. French people are gaining on the US as obesity/overweight population goes and it's growing at a faster clip. I've read a few articles are and there about it but the most recent one I can find right now is from 2006, midpoint of this discussion.


                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: chowser

                                            Here's a cute story by Eleanor Beardsley, the NPR correspondent in Paris. In it, she's taking her 2-year-old to the public day care, and describes the lovely meals the kids get and why.


                                          2. Saw the same thing in Rome: middle-aged ladies dressed to the hilt, scarfing down huge meals at lunch. I then watched them all trundle off on their high heels over the seven hills on their way home. These gals were serious walkers, and could obviously eat whatever they pleased. I followed their example while in Rome -- walked everywhere and ate everything. After 2 weeks, I'd lost 3 pounds.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                              I think you are right pikawicca, the walking has a big role in it.

                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                I actually walk a decent amount in my day-to-day life, being a subway/pedestrian type but after a week and change in Rome I lost 7-8 pounds. We were walking everywhere, all day. My legs were tired as hell, but my belly was better :)

                                                  1. re: cassoulady

                                                    Sadly, I was right back where I started a month or two later ;)

                                                    After looking at my ever widening waistline, maybe I should take another trip to Rome. But yeah, it was one of those on the move all the time trips and we were mostly walking everywhere so I was walking pretty much all day for 10 or so days.

                                                    1. re: jgg13

                                                      Maybe we should do a biggest loser- esque field trip to rome, eat drink be merry and come home skinny

                                                      1. re: cassoulady

                                                        Well, I'd need to spend about a month there at this point, I think - but sounds pretty good to me ;)

                                                        Something else that occurred to me just now that helped was that timing of when we wanted to eat vs. how everything is set up there led to us missing some meals here and there and grabbing a small snack.

                                              2. Seriously, no one knows why? Smaller portions. Eat less, weigh less. No big mystery.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: juantanamera

                                                  Smaller portions? Some of these Roman ladies were scarfing down entire pizzas on their own. (Maybe the calories don't count if you use a knife and fork, as they did.)

                                                  1. re: juantanamera

                                                    "Eat less, weigh less. No big mystery"?

                                                    Several commenters on this thread have already posted about how much they see Parisians eat - the simple magic answer is no answer at all and doesn't account for the thin-Parisians phenomenon. I saw plenty of portion sizes in France that rivaled American portion sizes. (I'm not talking about Cheesecake Factory. Plenty of Americans, including overweight ones, stick with far more normal portion sizes.)

                                                  2. Actually, it's ALL of the above reasons that people have posited- it's a bit because of genetics, a bit because Europeans generally walk everywhere 7 days a week, a bit because they eat less refined food, a bit because they eat less than we do, a bit because they eat more fruit/veg, a bit because they have a different attitude towards food that's bred in the bone... it's the perfect storm of being able to eat pastries, pizzas, other rich food, and alcohol, and being able to retain a 'normal' weight. I find that in North America we have this idea that there's one definitive answer to an issue or problem [or one pill we can take], when in fact there is no magic bullet- the solution/answer is complex, just like life is. On a side note, I found it interesting when I travelled throughout Europe that I rarely saw the extremes of body type I see here in N.A. - i.e. no super huge or anorexic people.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: Smorgasbord

                                                      new yorkers walk everywhere. plenty of fat new yorkers. of course there are plenty of fat parisians too. but why let the facts get in the way if a good talk.
                                                      also when you eat during the day has nothing to do with weight gain. if you eat 3000 calories for breakfast and lunch and no dinner, but only burn 2000 calories during the day, you get fatter. if you have a tiny breakfast tint lunch and eat dinner at 11:30 pm, but burn more calories than you took in you lose weight.

                                                    2. Compare a typical French portion size against an American portion size, and there you have it (among other reasons).

                                                      I'll never forget when our friends from Spain came to visit. We were at a restaurant, and after finishing their soup and salad, they got up to leave. When we told them that was just the beginning of the meal, they were flabbergasted (and a bit horrified, I think).

                                                      As others have pointed out, the gap is starting to close. As a frequent visitor to China, I have been amazed by the increasing amount of overweight Chinese I now see, compared to 10-15 years ago, when it was really unusual.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: gloriousfood

                                                        To lose, eat less. To gain, eat more Parisians are not compulsive snackers, especially on the crap that most Americans consume.

                                                        1. re: gloriousfood

                                                          I had a similar experience when a French friend of mine, whose mother was visiting NY, decided that her mother should absolutely experience Carnegie Deli with its huge pastrami sandwiches. Instead of being amused or impressed, her mother was horrified. "No, no!" she kept on saying. This was enough meat for her for a week.

                                                          1. re: roxlet

                                                            That's not the French view; it's mine. This is an obscene amount of meat, and I have never (in the past 40 years) been able to figure out why anyone would want to eat this mess.

                                                            1. re: pikawicca

                                                              I really wanted a pastrami sandwich at Carnegie Deli but couldn't get over the size of it so I didn't get one. As much as Americans might supersize, the pastrami sandwich isn't typical (nor is the close to $30 price).

                                                        2. i will add that my nieces who live in Paris walk 20 min to school, then 20 min home for the mid day lunch break,, then back to school then back home. Already that is more exercise than most americans get.

                                                          1. Portion sizes are much smaller than in the US. This is true not only in Paris, but in much of Asia as well.

                                                            1. This is hardly rocket science.

                                                              As a general rule, our restaurant portion sizes in Europe are much smaller than north american portion sizes. Whenever I visit the US, I am always amazed about (a) how much food I am served and (b) how many really fat people there are.

                                                              Obesity is, literally, a growing problem in the UK. It can be linked almost exactly to the growth of American (and American style) fast food outlets everywhere. Even the next village to ours has a Subway now (as well as three take-away pizza places). Other European countries are not rushing to an early grave in the way we Brits are.

                                                              At home, the UK has seen dramatic increases in snack foods at the same time as seeing a decline in traditional family meals. Another cause of poor diet and obesity that is simply not as common in some of our neighbour countries on the mainland.

                                                              1. I think it's also got a lot to do with a proper, deep-rooted food culture and a direct relationship with good, unprocessed ingredients and the preparation of meals from an early age. Unfortunately, the fiercely aggressive marketing from junk food companies is even tempting French kids with their addictive additives and colourings but, unlike the UK and the US, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and other European countries have a strong food culture and when the body is used to good, natural foods (even if these are fatty) it functions better and tends to keep itself trimmer.
                                                                Mass industrialisation and the colonial endeavours of Britain and America have made them richer in possessions but extremely poor in health, lacking a direct relationship with real food and creating cheap, convenient and terribly unhealthy rubbish with dire consequences.

                                                                5 Replies
                                                                1. re: Paula76

                                                                  "..when the body is used to good, natural foods (even if they are fatty) it functions better and tends to keep itself trimmer." What codswallop! If you want to talk rubbish, this is rubbish science. And when speaking of exploiting colonial endeavors, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Holland, Portugal, etc., should hang their heads in shame. The damage they did to indigenous food cultures in Africa, South America, and Asia are horrific. America is a bit player, but we are certainly guilty, as well: Every time I see a banana, I cringe.

                                                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                                                    I was talking about contemporary cultural colonisation so I apologise for not making myself clear. I am South American so I am patently aware of the history. Half of my family is Spanish and although they grew up eating bacon, butter and fats, they had excellent health as they never went near anything refined or processed. I am radically different, though, and actually prefer healthy and low-fat food naturally but I believe that as long as you buy fresh produce, prepare your own meals and eat regular sized portions, you're very unlikely going to be overweight.

                                                                    1. re: Paula76

                                                                      "I believe that as long as you buy fresh produce, prepare your own meals and eat regular sized portions, you're very unlikely going to be overweight."

                                                                      I believe you're probably right, Paula. In the UK, recent surveys all confirm that we're eating far more processed foods - ready meals and the like - than we did 30 years ago. The same surveys also show that we're losing the ability (or inclination) to prepare fresh food. Kids are growing up not learning how to cook from their parents.It's becoming a problem in society, not least for the increase we're seeing in obesity related illness.

                                                                      However, one of the dangers of threads like this (and I am as guilty as the next person) is that we observe something we see when we're in a foreign country and assume that this is the norm. For example, the OP refers to how s/he has seen folk in Paris eating a lot of food - I've also referred to how much food I get served in restaurants in America. But that's , almost certainly, about folk eating in restaurants and, you know, I can happily work my through a four course restaurant meal (and I will pick the tastiest dishes, not the healthiest). But let's not assume that this is a norm.

                                                                      Any cultural differences between America and Europe which lead to obesity are in what folk eat at home and, of course, what they do to burn off the calories. Me? I don't exercise anything like as much as I should, although I walk most days (although not as much since I retired). We also eat pretty healthily at home - not always of course (food is for enjoyment as well.)


                                                                      1. re: Harters

                                                                        I work in a supermarket part time, and it kills me when i see mothers with young children buying not one single ingredient. When I say that, I mean processed boxed, canned, or frozen meals. Seriously, $500 worth of groceries, and not a piece of fresh meat, fruit, or veg. That is why america is fat. The convenience of the horrible food. We feel that just because we might be busy, we must buy the easiest thing out there. Nevermind how easy it is to stirfry some chicken and veg.... ugh...

                                                                  2. re: Paula76

                                                                    For evidence backing what you're talking about, one need look no further than the glycemic index, where highly-processed foods often have a much higher number, indicating their tendency to spur insulin production with all the problems that can entail.

                                                                    One paper on the value of traditional, as opposed to modern, food processing is here:
                                                                    I can't vouch for or against that paper or the site it's on - the Weston A. Price foundation. It's somewhat controversial but purports to be focused on "restoring nutrient-dense foods to the American diet."

                                                                    Perhaps less controversially, the WHO's European section, in its report "WHO EUROPEAN ACTION PLAN FOR FOOD AND NUTRITION POLICY 2007-2012", cites as the first two "specific actions":

                                                                    1. Improve the availability and affordability of fruit and vegetables by revising agricultural policies; providing technical advice and market incentives for local horticulture, including urban horticulture; reducing trade barriers to imports; and ensuring a reduced risk of pesticide residues.
                                                                    2. Promote the reformulation of mainstream food products in order to reduce the amount of salt, added sugar, saturated fat and trans fatty acids and promote the availability of ranges of healthier products, by establishing a dialogue with food manufacturers; providing technical support (particularly to small businesses) and public recognition; and setting specific reformulated targets after an assessment of all potential effects.

                                                                    Based on that and plenty else, yes I suspect better food is better.

                                                                    The WHO also has this take on obesity:
                                                                    What causes obesity and overweight?
                                                                    The fundamental cause of obesity and overweight is an energy imbalance between calories consumed on one hand, and calories expended on the other hand. Global increases in overweight and obesity are attributable to a number of factors including:
                                                                    * a global shift in diet towards increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugars but low in vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients; and
                                                                    * a trend towards decreased physical activity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.

                                                                  3. City dwellers on the whole tend not to be as overweight as rural dwellers. This is so world-wide (yes, even in America - check out New York and L.A.). It has a lot to do with the fact that they walk more because it's harder to live in urban areas and have a car and public transport is spaced out enough that you always have to walk somewhere to catch it. It also has a lot to do with the fact that they have more establishments to patronize along a particular street so walking has greater value. Rural dwellers drive to one location because shops tend to be spaced out and they can't walk along several blocks visiting various shops and restaurants.

                                                                    11 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Orchid64

                                                                      I was wondering if that was true, it does seem that in NYC, people are apt to walk a lot more than the average person.

                                                                      1. re: cassoulady


                                                                        this studies prevalence of obesity vs. modes of travel, specifically, "active travel" -- walking or bicycling. americans are the fattest and have the lowest rate of active travel with only 8% of trips.


                                                                        this is a paper from the world health organization. europeans are quickly gaining on americans in being overweight. especially and most alarmingly, among children. too little activity and too much processed food.

                                                                        this op is 7 years old. much has changed. although most europeans aren't AS FAT as americans, more and more are getting that way.

                                                                        i live in a city and walk everywhere. although no longer what i weighed when i was 20, i am shocked by how fat people are.

                                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                          Hotoynoodle, i see you are in boston, me too. I am lucky enough to be able to walk to work, that combined with walking the dog and walking to the store etc is a great for me. I dont think my waistline would be a pretty site if I drove everywhere.

                                                                          1. re: cassoulady

                                                                            I used to live 3 min. outside of D.C. and I walked everywhere!!! I weighed about 20 lbs than I do now, (about a year later). I was able to eat healthier food out, I walked way more, and I had an accessible farmers market. It's just the mentality in the cities. You walk everywhere, and brag about what you can walk to from where you live. You strive to find exotic and healthy restaurants. Or maybe that's just from my area.

                                                                            1. re: cassoulady

                                                                              Also in Boston, and I do find that our notion of "walking distance" eclipses most other locales. I've had *very* fit relatives visit and be absolutely amazed at some of the marches I've put them through ... "is this a normal walk for you?" they'll ask.

                                                                              When I first moved here, my work was less than a mile away from my apartment. The only reason that I didn't drive to work every day was that the lot was $10/day and only half of the way there. Remove either of those statements and I'd have still driven to work, man that's sad.

                                                                              1. re: jgg13

                                                                                Definitely see myself in kubasd and jgg's replies. I'm a huge liar when it comes to estimating how far the walk is. My family is now on to me so they know when I say, "it's a 5 minute walk", it's really about 30. And if I actually admit, "it's kind of a long walk", then it's reaaaaaally a long walk. 'Course I am in the Army, but still, I don't think of walking as hard, could do it all day and not get tired. Blisters maybe, but not tired. I think if you're used to it (like most Parisians are) it just gets hidden into your daily life and as a result, you can eat a lot more at meals due to the "hidden" calorie burn. You also have less time to snack 'cause you're walking everywhere!

                                                                        2. re: Orchid64

                                                                          In LA, everyone drives everywhere--even down the block. That said, the body is so much on display that I've been told that one needs to maintain slimness in order to be considered normal. I even knew someone who (at the time) didn't know she had cancer, dropped a considerable amount of weight, and for awhile was asked by her physician why she was worried (as she was thinner than she had been as a teenager, and this was after having a child).

                                                                          That said, in most of the cities I've lived (Paris, Tokyo, Madrid, NY, Chicago, SF), people do walk and take public transportation regularly, which assists in preventing one's girth and backside from expanding more. Additionally, there are more food options, so the idea of eating smaller quantities of better food also applies. As does the (dreaded) idea that wealth and health are related.

                                                                          As others have mentioned, I'm not as small as in my 20's (through early 30's), and am certainly less active (no more all-nighters studying or hitting the clubs regularly), but I'd rather not eat anything than eat boatloads of what is considered my nation's "diet", and if my clothes get tight, I eat less and make attempts at being more active instead of buying larger sizes (one should note that the average size of refrigerators in any other part of the world are 1/4 the size of the average US refrigerator, and the cost of clothing much higher, which contribute to both fresher food purchases--instead of bulk--and fewer disposable items of clothing, which you probably won't have room for considering the sizes of closets globally).

                                                                          1. re: Orchid64

                                                                            I'm not sure that L.A. area residents walk any more than residents of Nashville, Seattle, or Columbus. New York, certainly. In most big cities in this country, nearly everyone drives. There does not exist an infrastructure, such as in Europe, that allows many people to live a pedestrian and transit oriented lifestyle.

                                                                            I'd say that the vast majority of residents of American cities exhibit the behavior of what you called "rural dwellers." Even in cities like Chicago and Boston, which have dense, walkable centers, are mostly made up of and surrounded by communities which are suburban and auto-oriented in nature.

                                                                            1. re: Agent Orange

                                                                              the comments were urban-specific, not including the radial suburbs. if i lived in wellesley or framingham, yeah, i'd have to drive most places. however, i live in boston proper. i do not own a car, and can say the same of many of my friends. we walk or take the "t". a 20- or 30-minute walk is often easier than taking the "t", so we just do it.

                                                                              our very old and dense city is notoriously not auto-friendly. chucking in a city like this with a more modern one, like nashville or seattle, that basically developed after and around the auto, is inaccurate.

                                                                              i work in hospitality, so encounter many tourists. i am always amazed by (a) how fat they are and (b) how easily exhausted they are by a little bit of walking. if i tell them something is a 10-minute walk, they want to drive, even though taking a car and trying to park would easily double that time. they are amazed that i immediately know they are from elsewhere.

                                                                              i once had a trio of women from ohio ask me "how long it would take to drive the freedom trail." lol.

                                                                              1. re: hotoynoodle

                                                                                that is pretty funny abou the freedom trail. After reading this thread and thinking about walking, I was very greatful as I scurried to work via foot this morning, late as ususal trying to make the 30 min walk become a 20 min one.

                                                                                1. re: cassoulady

                                                                                  i also was thinking of this thread this morning when i schlepped a week's worth of groceries (not limited to, but including a 10-pound bag of cat litter, a 5-pound bag of carrots and a 5-pound pack of chicken thighs) on the 20-minute walk back home from the shaw's.

                                                                          2. Has anyone mentioned smoking? Almost all my Parisian in-laws smoke. Mostly they're pretty thin, but one cousin has been chubby her whole life.

                                                                            5 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Glencora

                                                                              shhh, in the US we don't like to ever mention that there might be some benefits to smoking whatsoever.

                                                                              1. re: jgg13

                                                                                What's the benefit in smoking? If it's losing weight then there are other ways as well, you can amputate and arm. You'd weigh less but it's really not advisable.

                                                                                ETA: You can also take meth, have you seen how skinny those meth addicts are?

                                                                                1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                  I didn't say that it wasn't overall bad, just pointing out that the level of demonization has reached the point where no one can ever imply that there's *any* benefit without getting in trouble.

                                                                                  Example, this post, in response to an implication that smoking can assist keeping one's weight down:
                                                                                  "What's the benefit in smoking? If it's losing weight then there are other ways as well, you can amputate and arm. You'd weigh less but it's really not advisable."

                                                                                  1. re: jgg13

                                                                                    How about cocaine? That can keep you pretty trim as well.

                                                                                    1. re: KTinNYC

                                                                                      Indeed it can. Much like nicotine, some folks use it as a weight loss aid ya know.

                                                                            2. It is not that Parisians are thin, its that the incidence of obesity is so high in most of the US. Obesity ratres are way lower in Asia and in Latin America than in the US (although China is making some gains with its fat kids).

                                                                              In the US, class has something to do with obesity. When I went to grad school in Eugene, people around the U were failrly trim. Across I-5 in Springfield, obesity rates jumped. Professionals who work in DC (around the World Bank / White House area) and use the metro walk a fair bit and are pretty trim. I rarely see obese people when I walk to and from work there.

                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                              1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                                                one step further down that slippery slop, would be to say that obesity, economic class, and IQ are all intertwined. Smarter=wealthier=trimmer......as a generality of course.

                                                                                Of all the places I have ever been, The only place that I saw people eating as much VOLUME as in the U.S. is Greece. Greece has obesity rates that rival ours. Most men had sizable guts, and the women sizable rears......even people deemed attractive(by the locals) were carrying a good 10-15lbs of extra weight. At 6'2 and 170 I was a freakish anomoly, just as I am in rural America.

                                                                                Not even DNA can over come the laws of Thermodynamics.......energy in/energy out.

                                                                                1. re: nkeane

                                                                                  which is funny, because in the past, that was the reverse... wealth equaled obesity, poorer equaled thinner

                                                                                  1. re: kubasd

                                                                                    true. Wealth buys what is not easily obtained otherwise. 200 years ago, wealth bought an abundance of food while the masses went hungry. Today wealth buys quality food, gym memberships. Wealth is also by and large attributable to knowledge and education. People that take the time and energy to educate themselves for a career, are also the type that will take the time to learn about their own health and diet.

                                                                              2. it's really very simple: they burn more calories than they consume.

                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                1. re: katydid13

                                                                                  Which, as many other posts here elaborate, is due to a combination of genetics and myriad other factors.

                                                                                2. I worked in Paris some years back. You may not see them out strolling... your eyes may have been averted... but they are there. They populate the workplace with as much frequency as the numbers you see in America. But, that said, by and large (ahem, pardon the pun) people who live in cities walk more over the course of their day. They maybe do not have cars or the cars are annoying to get out of the car park.

                                                                                  About the French that I noticed (that is different from the U.S.) - they do not seem to be big snackers like we are, their meals are not HUGE and they eat slower. All those things make for a thinner person.

                                                                                  1. Years ago, while on Weight Watchers and doing very very well, my husband was unexpectedly sent to Paris for two weeks on business, and I was able to go along. It wasn't our first trip there, and so I already had a lot of experience eating in Paris restaurants and sampling every patisserie that we passed. Since I was doing so well on WW, I was really worried about how I was going to manage my diet.

                                                                                    I didn't know what Weight Watchers were called in Paris so I looked in the phone book under .... Weight Watchers. Good guess :-)

                                                                                    I got the info on the nearest location and times of meetings. My husband kidded me that I would be the only one there that was overweight. At least I think he was kidding. The other members, all women, looked pretty much like my group at home, only better dressed :-) They were all sizes, as they were in various stages of the program.

                                                                                    The lecturer spoke perfect English and made me feel very welcome, and refused to let me pay for the meeting. I went through the dreaded weigh-in, and weighed something like 58 stones, or kilograms and was thrilled. I hadn't weighed 58 anything since grammar school.

                                                                                    Of course the meeting was in French, but that really wasn't a problem, as dieting is a universal language. One of the topics was how to say no gracefully. Their tones of voice were funny and understandable....from, a meek little non merci to a top of lungs NON MERCI. Then they went to chocolate.... that provoked a lot of giggles and oohs and ahhhs.

                                                                                    I bought one of their refrigerator magnetic charts that I used at home, to check off my daily intake. It was almost identical to the one that I had on my refrigerator at home, except their version had more fat, cheese and butter. Another reason to move to Paris!

                                                                                    Back then WW marketed single portions of salad dressing in little foil packets. I always ordered my salads sans dressing, and used my dressing. You should have seen the expression on the faces of the waiters when they caught me doing that.

                                                                                    I am very short, 4-11, and no matter how much I watch myself, my average weekly loss is half a pound to l.5 pounds a week - never more.

                                                                                    After two weeks in Paris, eating a lot of chicken and fish, some meat, and only only taking bites of my husband's endless pastries, and of course walking, walking, walking ..... I lost 10 pounds!!!

                                                                                    It seemed only fair, as I had gained some of that weight in Paris on previous trips. I have also gained it back, and more, on subsequent trips.

                                                                                    1. I thought this was an interesting dispatch from David Lebovitz's blog "Living The Sweet Life In Paris":

                                                                                      Mainly, I mean, for his commentary on what's in the markets these days and general freshness of ingredients. It doesn't talk about weight, but does address some of the undercurrent happening with trends. Of course it's just one view, but he has a perspective from both France and the U.S. - or San Francisco, anyway.

                                                                                      1. There are overweight Parisians, and I've dined with a couple of them. However, a great many Parisians maintain a very healthy weight because of their eating habits. My fiance is a born Parisian and we visit there often. He stated the reason that the French/Parisians are mostly a better weight are because they do not snack. He is shocked at the way we, as Americans, snack. Also--they do not (for the most part) eat processed foods. They eat their cheese, but in small quantities and drink the red wine. Dessert is not an every day occurance. Maybe a small piece of chocolate after dinner. They are also big on walking. Oh..and the bread. They take such small bits of bread that--well, for me at least, it is sad to watch. The bread is just so good, it's hard to just take a nibble. The no snack rule is paramount though. Speaking for his family members--they don't snack. At all. When I'm there I want to eat everything I see, but I have to show restraint and decorum. I think their stomachs are also smaller so they can handle less food:)

                                                                                        8 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: jarona

                                                                                          I think that when your food is regularly of higher quality, you are very satisfied with less of it. The lower the quality (less fresh, additives, fewer nutrients, poor quality in general), the more your body prompts you to eat more so that it can try to get what it needs. I also think that the more "messed up" your body is chemically (prescription drugs, food additives, etc.), the more frantic it becomes to somehow obtain what it needs to fix itself, thus more eating again - the only source our bodies know about for gaining necessary nutrients.

                                                                                          1. re: sandylc

                                                                                            I think one of the other contributory factors is that Paris, unlike a lot of world cities, is not as economically mixed (particularly compared to London, where I live). Much of Paris's social/public housing is outside of the city centre, and the city's residents tend to be in higher income groups. This will affect people's diet, exercise, and health choices. I'm not debating the points that people have made about eating habits, but I think Paris's economic make-up has something to do with it too...

                                                                                            1. re: babybat

                                                                                              You are kidding, aren't you? Good, fresh food at any price point is so much easier to find in Paris than London. Shopping in London is best for those with deep pockets if you want wine, cheese, and decent, fresh bread. Even rent and the metro are cheaper in Paris than London.

                                                                                              Having been a poor student and shoestring budget traveller in both cities (and many others) I heartily disagree that Paris only has skinny people because they're rich. At least state something like a pint of beer at the pub has 3x the calories as a glass of wine, and the weather in Paris is more salubrious for those who walk--you're never more than 5 minutes from the metro, so you DO walk more.

                                                                                              1. re: Caralien

                                                                                                You cannot entirely dismiss the economic theory. Talke a leisurely stroll through Kensington or even Islington and then go out to the far east end, south London or places like Tottenham. There *is* a difference to the average weight sizes, especially for the women, which will be tied to levels of knowledge, access to food and perhaps just as important, peer pressure.

                                                                                                1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                  Again--it's access to fresh food. I don't know of any areas in Paris where one can't get fresh produce on a shoestring budget.

                                                                                                  In the US too, poor areas lack grocery stores with fresh produce. That is not the case in the poor areas of Paris. in the US & UK, eating highly processed, minimally nutritious food AND being overweight is more acceptable than in Paris--that's true--but even poor people in Paris have access to and can afford fresh food.

                                                                                                  1. re: Caralien

                                                                                                    Access to fresh food will be one factor, but it certainly isn't the *only* factor.

                                                                                                    Some of the heaviest people in the US and UK are to be found in rural farm country, completely surrounded by farms raising fresh food.

                                                                                                    My hometown has a large downtown farmer's market that is within walking distance of some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. This seems to have no impact on the dietary habits of the poor urban residents. I once lived in an up and coming urban neighborhood and a supermarket opened on the border between the neighborhood and the adjoining, much poorer area. At its opening the market featured a nice selection of fresh produces but after a few months most of it had been replaced by sad looking wrinkled vegetables here and there. I complained to the store manager and his blunt answer was that the majority of shoppers were the poorer neighborhood residents and they simply weren't buying the fresh fruits and vegetables.

                                                                                                    So - it's solely not a question of access and affordability.

                                                                                                    1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                                                      Are you implying education,as well?

                                                                                                      1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                        I think education comes into it in at least one respect. I have a strong sense that many young working class men (in particular) are eating meals very similar to those eaten by their fathers and grandfathers. Those meals had calories suitable to the heavy industrial manual work that thy earlier generations earned their living at. Those jobs are no longer with us and today's young men are employed in jobs where much of their time is spent sat on their backsides. Of course, they're going to get fat unless they (and their families) learn to eat meals with more appropriate calories. It is, literaly, a growing problem for society.

                                                                                        2. I have a theory that the highly processed food readily available in North America are a big factor in the percentage of obese people.
                                                                                          High fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oils, low quality ingredients, fillers and stabilizers probably do not help.
                                                                                          Another big problem is the many fast-food/sit-down-dinning-but-still-fast-food chains cranking out dishes that have more that your daily requirements of calories, salt, fat, saturated fat in one dish.
                                                                                          Men's Health magazine compiles various lists of horrible fast food available, here is an example:


                                                                                          Come on, an entree with 7,000 mg of salt? A pasta dish with 2,700 calories? Serioulsy?
                                                                                          But then again, that's just my opinion.

                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: hypomyces

                                                                                            Parisians also eat fast food. They just don't drive from home to the drive up window and back. Have you seen the lines at KFC, McDonalds, and Quick at lunchtime? It's not just fat Americans.

                                                                                            1. re: Caralien

                                                                                              Its a bunch of things -- availability of high fat, calorie dense, cheap and convenient foods + car culture of driving with cities designed to discourage biking/walking/public transport due to urban sprawl + portion distortion + incessant junk food advertising on TV + lack of personal responsibility (<- which is the BIGGEST factor IMHO)
                                                                                              BUT the MAIN thing that I haven't seen addressed above is the one simple fact that in Continental Europe, it is absolutely CULTURALLY UNACCEPTABLE TO BE FAT. Period. End of story. There is no "fat acceptance" movement of any note over there. There is no accommodation for oversized people. If you are fat, and in a grocery store, you WILL have your shopping cart assessed and you WILL be told to stop eating crap. Try finding large or plus sized clothes that are easily purchased and fashionable. It IS acceptable to be larger if you are a nonna or if you have had 25 children and live in a village or are over 60 in a certain economic bracket. This is seen as being matronly and/or filling a societal role in a certain socioeconomic context. But the morbidly/obese at young ages? Completely unacceptable.
                                                                                              Peer pressure is an amazing force, both for good and for bad.
                                                                                              And what is kind of scary to me is that people are quite comfortable in foisting the problem onto factors other than that of personal responsibility. It isn't heredity nor genes (yes genes can predispose one to a certain body type), nor is it HFCS, nor is it advertising, nor is it food availability. It is the fact that a large person has made the choice to be the way they are yet are reluctant to accept this simple fact. NO ONE forces ANYONE to go through the drive thru 5 meals a week. No one FORCES you to eat Captain Crunch for breakfast. You don't HAVE to supersize anything. The one wielding the fork and eating the food and making the choice to eat the wrong foods and/or the wrong amounts MUST assume the responsibility for any excess body fat. I know I did, and in the past 3 years have transformed from a middle aged 250lb person to a 150lb marathon walking yoga teacher. And the first step in this transformation was simply to accept responsibility for my food choices and food-related behaviours. It isn't the genes, the HFCS, megafarming, fast food, tv -- its the right (or left) hand holding the fork that is the problem.
                                                                                              Again, JMHO from persona experience

                                                                                              1. re: freia

                                                                                                You speak the truth! And congrats on your transformation!

                                                                                                1. re: Isolda

                                                                                                  :) thanks! Its been a hard long journey especially being a chowhound and all! I just get frustrated when I hear rationalizations about weight and size. I did it for years, too. I only transformed when I took responsibility. I was amazed, though, after living in Europe, about how unacceptable it was to be large in those societies. We don't suffer the same social pressures, and studies have shown that if everyone around you is a certain size, it becomes acceptable to be that size too. Perhaps this drift of body size/weight "acceptability" socially can also explain the obesity crisis?

                                                                                          2. Who needs to study Parisians? Just look to the Chinese. In Shanghai just 10 years ago you'd be hard pressed to find a fat person. Now look with the proliferation of MacDonalds, KFC and Pizza hut. Not too long ago, there wasn't a single KFC, now they're everywhere. The popularity of Starbucks with fatty frothy sugary drinks is enormous , all of this resulting in more and more Chinese eating a "Western" diet that is expanding waistlines.

                                                                                            What's making people fat?

                                                                                            Corn syrup. Trans fats. Processed meats. Highly refined foodstuffs. Low fiber. Eating past 8pm.

                                                                                            Paris has largely resisted declasse encroachment of American fast food culture. Unfortunately, in China, people embrace it.