Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Where are all the fat guys?

Posted by butalidnl on 13 October 2006

These days, there are alarm bells ringing about the obesity epidemic that is sweeping the world, with the US leading the trend. This has made me wonder, because when I walk around the city, ride the bus or train, visit friends, I don’t notice this so-called epidemic. Of course, there are people who look heavier than others, but there are also people who look lighter than the average. I guess that one reason for this is that obese people don’t go about as often as the general population. But this still seemed strange, given all the hype re obesity. So, I looked up the statistics.

Well, I found that the Netherlands has one of the lowest levels of obesity in the European Union – it seems that only France has a lower rate. But still, the Netherlands’ figure of 9,8% of people who are 20 plus years old as obese (i.e. with BMI – Body Mass Index of 30 or over) seems too high to be healthy. By the way, the BMI is the figure you get after you divide your body weight in kilograms, by the square of your height in meters. My BMI is 26+, which means that I am a bit overweight, since a BMI of 25 is healthy. And together with me, about 40% of the people here are also overweight (i.e. with a BMI over 25).

Why does the Netherlands have less obese people? Indeed. One possible factor could be the prevalence of bicycles in this country. There are more bikes than people here, and many people use their bikes every day.  It used to be that people would take their bikes to the train station before riding on the train.  Nowadays,  a growing number of people have folding bikes – they fold their bikes while in the train (this saves them from having to pay the fare for taking a bike in the train, a folded bike counts as baggage and is free to take in the train) and then unfold them again when they reach their destination.

Also, there is a new trend toward healthier eating. A recent study found that the Dutch are now less likely to eat at fastfood stores, and that people are taking less snacks. This comes together with moves to adjust the ingredients in the fastfood stores themselves e.g. changing to vegetable oils for french fries, etc.  Supermarkets are gaining market share in comparison to snack bars, because they are open longer (they used to close at 6 p.m.,  now they are open till 8 or 9 p.m.)  and offer small meal packages intended for the small household and those with hectic schedules.

As income levels rise, it seems that people here move out of eating obese-prone foods. One example is the decreasing amount of beer consumption; people are shifting towards drinking wine instead. And fastfood products are definitely “budget” foods, which means that lower-income people resort to these because they are cheaper; but that as people become wealthier they eat more “proper” foods.

Nevertheless, the Dutch obesity rate of 9.8% is still high; especially if we note that the rate in the year 2000 was around 6%. So, there is still a lot to do, even here, to keep people’s weight down,  and to make people eat more healthier foods and exercise more.

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