The convenience of fast food is having negative effects on the health of Southern Europeans
While North Americans are applauding the bans on trans-fats and the limiting of fast food access thanks to government initiatives, not all are spurring its convenience. The rise in affluence in the Mediterranean (along with the corresponding longer work hours) has seen the proliferation of fast food franchises throughout the region, along with corresponding obesity.
The USA has traditionally been seen as the “land of fat”, but Europeans might not be that far behind. Peter Popham explains in fast food invasion hits Mediterranean:
The Mediterranean diet’s guarantee of lightness, flavour and health has gained devotees all over the world because it is low in animal fat and high in fruit, vegetables and olive and sunflower oils. But a report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reveals that the people of Mediterranean countries increasingly spurn it.
Increased affluence and the arrival of supermarkets and fast foods in countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal have also led to a massive increase in obesity, the report finds.
The most dramatic example is Greece. Today, 56 per cent of the population of the European Union are overweight, with 15 per cent obese – but the problem in Greece is far worse, where three quarters are overweight and more than 25 per cent obese – the highest proportion in the EU. And the other Mediterranean countries are not far behind.
The Med diet was originally the diet of the poor, who typically did hard physical work but did not earn enough to eat much meat. Rising affluence has changed that though, making the former working classes as sedentary as those of northern Europe by increasing discretionary income while reducing the time available for people to cook.
Popham then goes on to tell us about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet:
The benefits of the Med diet are well established. A study in 2005 found that a healthy man of 60 who stuck closely to the diet – a high intake of vegetables, fruits and cereals. Lots of fish and not much meat or dairy – could expect to live around one year longer than a man who did not.
Other countries, including Britain, have adopted elements of the diet, such as increased consumption of olive oil and salads – although the advantages have been negated by lack of exercise.
Who are Europe’s fatties? Take a look at this chart:
Weight league: Europe’s top 10
Greece: 75.6% overweight, 26.2% obese
Finland: 63.8% overweight, 18% obese
Germany: 63.7% overweight, 19.7% obese
Britain: 62.5% overweight, 18.7% obese
Austria: 59% overweight, 14.8% obese
Spain: 55.7% overweight, 15.6% obese
Portugal: 55.5% overweight, 13.1% obese
Italy: 51.9% overweight, 12.2% obese
Denmark: 50.7% overweight; 9.6% obese
Ireland: 50% overweight; 9.5% obese
Source: WHO Global InfoBase