After a recent return from Europe, and keen interest in urban planning issues, I am enthralled to recognize the difference between the American and European culture and weight scale.
Depending upon the location in Europe, some areas may or may not have accessible resources like we do in America. For example, when going to an American grocery store, there is a whole aisle, or numerous aisles, dedicated to beverages (water, soda, sport drinks, juice). In Europe, Poland for example, visitors will find two shelves dedicated to beverages. I started noticing in Europe that you have the choice (soda for example) of Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and Coke Light, which is very selective compared to the 30+ kinds of sodas and flavors offered in the USA.
In addition, Europe, just like America and other countries, features many heavy meat and potato dishes. From pierogies to schnitzel to bangers and mash to whale and puffin burgers (yes this is available in Iceland), it is hard to imagine eating this type of food and staying slender.
Plus, the European culture is very much surrounded with spirits, lunchtime beers and lattes. I started questioning if people actually consumed fruits and vegetables?
So what is the reason for the obese factor? Well for starters, obesity is becoming a global epidemic, but I must say that the Polish were in fact some of the most slender people I have seen. However, a major factor is due to urban planners creating or ruining dense populations.
European cities are dense, populated areas that encourage walking, biking or public transit as the mode of transportation. It is common in Europe to find walkable streets that provide apartment / condo style housing with shops on the main floor. When there are retail, businesses, grocers and cafes located within a small proximity or radius, it enhances dense populations and promotes walking for errands, dinner or to shop.
On the other hand, the technology of cars and the Transportation Act in the 1950’s in America started to create suburban sprawl. The American dream to own large houses, spacious lawns and fancy cars created less dense cities (part of the reason for the desolation of many Midwest cities like Cleveland and Detroit) and encouraged driving or basically sitting to do daily tasks.
Portland and Seattle are perfect examples of very well planned out cities. Density is in abundance downtown and within the neighborhoods. In addition, city governments are progressive and innovative with their care of public parks and accessibility of bike lanes and trails. Another interesting fact that many Portlanders may not know is that the city has a height zoning law. Therefore, no building can exceed the specific zoning height regulation which is nothing higher than a 40 story building. This is creative to preserve the natural wonder views of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens.
At the end of the day, there are still many dietary issues that affect Americans, most likely with too many choices of poor, processed foods. However, we must deal with what we have built for our lives, and find ways to stay active and fit.