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Obesity in the US and UK

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Yesterday, I noted how much healthier a French/Spanish diet is compared to the US. Today I'm going to talk about the similarities with the country that is very similar to us with our obesity crisis: England.

Culture wise, I think Canadians are most similar to the US. (With the exception of Quebec). Our accent, mannerism, and style of dress are so similar, it's near impossible for foreigner to correctly identify the difference. Like Americans, Canadian cuisine is a fusion of other cultures. Canadians, though, retain a lot more of their British heritage than the US, who cast most of it out in the American Revolution. You can still find many places in British Columbia that serve afternoon tea and scones. The Queen is on their currency. For the most part, Canada (at least British Columbia) doesn't feel distinctly different than the Pacific Northwest of the US. It doesn't feel like a foreign, alien place.

Unless you think Seattle is a foreign planet with their crazy love for coffee and indy music, and some people do!

There are some subtle differences, but it is mostly indistinguishable.

When I visited the UK, it felt like a distinctly different place. I was definitely in a foreign country. Not only because of driving on the 'wrong side of the road'! When I met some of the locals in Birmingham, the language was so different, at times I could hardly believe we both spoke English!

At times, it was hard to see that as an American, my culture was actually rooted here. Like a child looking at their parent to get insights into who they are, so was I looking at British culture. Who are we? Why are we the way we are? Are we so different?

The similarities I saw was the food, oddly enough. I spent a little time in London. London is an international city, and so it's hard to find things that are distinctly British there. In Birmingham, it's more noticeable.

The British have things that some Americans would balk at cuisine wise (I did). Black pudding. Steak and kidney pie (kidneys from calves). Marmite - bleh! I am not a fan. emoticon

I thought it was weird some of the restaurants served baked beans with eggs, fried tomato, and bacon for breakfast. Baked beans? I asked my fiance if he wanted me to start serving his breakfast with pork 'n beans. He said no.

Now before I get much further, I should mention that the national food of England is not fish and chips. No, the national food of the UK is Indian food!

Maybe it's a regional thing, I'm not familiar enough with British culture to know for sure, but "Beer and a Curry" was THE favorite of the locals I met. After a night hanging out at the pub, everyone would roll into an Indian curry house.

Ordering Indian curry is a bit different than in the states. The 'heat' spiciness of the cuisine was determined by the dish you ordered. You didn't order madras "1 star". Jalfraze is the standard mild dish. Madras and vindaloo are considered one of those pain foods you order on a dare. You force your best friend to eat it on their birthday, or at their bachelor party. You have contests with your friend to see how many spoonfuls you can eat before you burst into flames.

Not knowing this, I ordered madras and everyone looked concerned, or impressed. I'm not sure. I ate the madras and I thought it was delicious! I didn't break out in a sweat, fall off the chair and gasp for air. Everyone was in disbelief. Suddenly, I was a local legend! I was asked, "Do all Americans eat spicy food?"

I explained that ethnically, I'm half-Korean. I was born eating kimchee and hot bean paste, but many Americans do not like heat the way I do. They never had either kimchee or hot bean paste, so they just looked puzzled. The reference was lost on them.

If you go into a "British Pub" in the 'States, what you usually see on the menu are things like Shepard's Pie, fish and chips, corned beef sandwiches and the like. What British cuisine and their American progeny share is a world-wide reputation for being nothing special. American food is burgers and fries, and British is fish and chips. Or so sasys the stereotype.

What I found is we also share very oddly distorted food size portions.

I told my fiance I wanted fish and chips. Might as well have the 'native' food, right? We went to this one place near Blackpool that was supposed to be one of the best. I was served this deep fried fish that probably weighed a pound. Their special was, if you eat it all, you get it free.

There was no way I could eat all of it. I felt guilty not eating it all. I wished I had got a smaller portion size.

After coming back from Spain with their healthy tapas, this was a shock. A reminder that maybe this is how it happens. You see excesses on a daily basis, and it becomes normal. A long time ago, if I had gone into a restaurant and been served the 'tapas' sized portions, I would have balked that the portions were too small. Now I balked at a portion of fried fish that was too large. The server girl kept encouraging me to 'eat more' so I could get it free. I said, no, no, it was impossible. She laughed.

England has a growing obesity problem, but it is not near the scale of the US - yet. The US is still the king when it comes to over consumption. I saw a few Brits with pot bellies, but I rarely saw anyone morbidly obese.

Visit the southern states in the US, and it's more common to see above normal BMI. I get comments from the waiters/waitresses at restaurants that I'm 'too skinny', and I should order the pie because 'I don't need to worry about the calories'. My BMI is on the upper range of normal.

The UK does have a growing problem where they are looking more like the US. If you've ever seen Jamie Olivier's "Food Revolution", he talks about it. The UK is heading down a dangerous path. Diabetes and high blood pressure are preventable diseases for the majority of us.

My future brother-in-law is 37 years old and already has insulin resistance. He is 40 lbs overweight.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Oh my, how funny...in my experience, portions in Europe are smaller and we seldom have petite or jumbo sizes, maybe everything is just 'too normal'...funny you had language difficulties in Birmigham, I can believe it!!!! emoticon
    3732 days ago
    Interesting blog. When I moved out of the states I remember being surprised at the amount of food I got at a restaurant. It was the proper amount! I was kind of bummed at first because I was used to getting so much food in the US but then I realized it is better. On Nevis, it was standard that a salad came on your plate not matter what you ordered. It wasn't stated on the menu, it just came. I liked that too. Portion sizes are normal here too. The amount you get is the amount a person generally should be eating. I see fast food sneaking it's way in though and I wonder how long it will take Norwegians to start eating it in the way Americans do. Hopefully they can hold it off.

    Your comments on our accents are interesting too. People abroad will ask me if I am English or American. When I gave birth to Liam, I was known in the maternity ward of the hospital as "the English woman". Canadian, I sometimes get too.
    3754 days ago
    Great blog and comments, I especially agree w/ the comment about walking, it really does help counteract the poor food choices and large portions sizes. And the concept of "it's free if you can finish it", well in the long run it would cost you much more than the price of the entree, so better for you not to force it down!
    3754 days ago
    I didn't want to offend Canadians, so I did try to be clear that I was referring to British Columbia. I have visited other parts of Canada, though. The cultural differences are not as distinct as it is with the States versus UK, with the exception of Quebec, which is very different than the rest of Canada itself. When I travel abroad, I get asked, "Are you American or Canadian?" It is difficult to tell the difference, unless you are Canadian or American. My fiance is often mistaken for Australian in the States because his thick Birmingham accent is not like what we normally think of as British (like the Queen, or James Bond). We're not used to hearing a Birmingham accent, so most Americans think it is Aussie. The only people we run into who can correctly place it is someone from the UK, or Australia!

    I agree there is an attitude of 'bigger is better', which I don't agree with. My fiance and I usually order an appetizer, and share a single entree. We ask the server for two plates. Usually we get funny looks, but it hasn't been a problem for the most part.
    3754 days ago

    Comment edited on: 10/12/2010 9:41:33 AM
  • 60SIXTY
    Hearing your experience seems more real than hearing it on the news.
    The local "cuisine" would be kraut & brats or chicken & noodles over mashed potatoes. Perhaps some apfelkuchen. Hmmm. I haven't had a brat for a while.
    I will stick to my roasted chicken for today.
    3754 days ago
    Perhaps you don't see many differences between the US and Canadian Pacific Northwest. BC is known to be more traditionally 'British" than any other province. Travel Canada a bit and you'll hear a lot of different accents and each many regional specialties. I think it would be the same in any big country.

    There seems to be a 'bigger is better' attitude in the US about many things, including servings. When we travel to the US, we usually divide a meal between at least two of us. Even in checking nutritional info for restaurants that are in both countries, I ensure I check the Canadian site because values (sodium, etc.) are often much higher in the US for the same resto/dish. I'm not sure how that came about, but it's an observation I've heard from many other travellers. Perhaps some other SparkMembers have some insight...
    3754 days ago
  • no profile photo CD5127867
    Another reason the Brits are not as obese is their daily lives involve more walking. So, even without realizing it, they get more exercise than the average American who's wedded to his or her car.
    3754 days ago
  • SKYHAWK195
    Very Interesting
    3754 days ago
  • SKYHAWK195
    3754 days ago
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