Being from the US, I’m very familiar with the obesity epidemic and the fact that more and more people are getting fatter and fatter. Being from an upper middle class area of the Bay Area and having spent my college years in between Bel Air and Beverly Hills at UCLA, I personally haven’t see the frightening statistics come to life because both of those areas are pretty health and appearance conscious. However, that doesn’t mean that the US – and the world – as a whole doesn’t have an ever expanding waistline.
I’ve had visitors to Chile comment on how there aren’t many fat people here, and I always remind them it’s all relative. There aren’t as many morbidly obese people here, but there are many many people who’re a little more redondito than is healthy. And when the average height is about 5’8″ for men, it doesn’t take too many extra pounds to put you over the edge.
I saw this graphic from The Economist the other day and wanted to share.
Honestly, I’m not surprised. Diabetes is an extremely common problem here, but most people’s response is to replace sugar with artificial sweeteners rather than to cut back on the sweets altogether. I have also seen far too many children sucking down a bottle of soda or eating cookies for breakfast. I think there’s a huge lack of education in terms of proper nutrition, especially for kids considering the number of parents I see – many of them perfectly intelligent people usually – offering their toddlers nectar. Nectar, while it may look like juice, is closer to fruit-flavored syrup than fresh-squeezed OJ. Would you give your two year old a big glass of syrup every time she was thirsty?
Of course it’s not just sweets – it’s the ridiculous excess of salt (a recent news program put the average Chilean’s daily sodium intake at 10,000-11,000 mgs a day, 5-5.5 times the recommended maximum), lack of exercise and a genetic predisposition to the stockier build of the indigenous Mapuches, with whom pretty much every Chilean shares an ancestor or two. Up til now, Chileans have probably been saved to a certain extent by the relative lack of processed foods in their diet, but as grocery stores stock more and more convenience items (and gringos like me rejoice at finding the products we’re used to from back home) and the economy continues to improve, increasing disposable income, Chileans appear to be in for more than just economic growth.