A Heavy Welcome to the US

Could people gain weight by simply moving to a new country? In this case, the United States?
This was certainly the experience for Mireille Guiliano, author of the book “French women don’t get fat,” who came to the US from a small town in eastern France. She talks about her experience as a fit young girl who moved to Boston as an exchange student and then returning home to her parents who thought she had turned into “a potato sack”.
Dr. Daphne Miller, author of the book “The Jungle Effect” wrote about a patient of hers named Angela who grew up in a rainforest village on the banks of the Amazon River in Brazil. She was healthy and energetic until she moved to the US at the age of 9 and gained significant weight. Luckily, she lost the excess weight when she visited her home country.
No surprise that a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association measured obesity among US immigrant subgroups and found that “living the United States for 10 to 15 years was associated with BMI increases of 0.88 and 1.39, respectively”
Another study was done to determine the percentage of obesity among selected ethnic natives, 3rd generation immigrants, and 1st and 2nd generation ethnic immigrants. The study revealed that although not all immigrants weight increased, many do. for example:

  • First generation Hispanic immigrants showed obesity prevalence of 19.4% , followed by an increase in 2nd generation of up to 21.7%, then it decreased in the 3rd generation to 17.2%.
  • First generation non-Hispanic blacks had an obesity prevalence of 16.5 %, while it decreased in the 2nd generation blacks (15.1%), and increased greatly in 3rd generation (24.0%)
  • Non-Hispanic whites showed an increase in obesity with every new generation. 1st generation had obesity prevalence of 8.9%, then 10.9% among 2nd generation and 12.1% among 3rd generation.

the observed weight changes in second and third generation might be due to lifestyle change and altered metabolism rate. The older a person gets the slower the metabolism rate

Other than the change in eating habits, slowed metabolism rate that occurs with age might be another reason for the observed weight gain in the 2nd and 3rd generation.
What is it about American lifestyle that causes this weight gain? Why is the USA ranked as number 9 in obesity among all the countries? Is it the diet? Is it the lifestyle? Is it because American food is so unique and delicious?
No wonder 74.1% of Americans are obese when they were the first to experience fast food restaurants as early as 1950 when the first McDonald hamburger restaurant was opened and became an inspiration for all other fast food chains. According to Eric Schlosser, the author of “Fast Food Nation”, 96% of children can identify Ronald McDonald, who is considered the second most famous fictional character after Santa Claus.
The question is: why are immigrants and visitors to the United States gaining weight?
From research and my experience, it seems to me that the main reason for this weight gain is the lifestyle change.  Coming to America means partaking in the lifestyle, which includes:

  • Little or no exercise during work or rest hours
  • Heavy dependence on cars and public transportation rather than walking, to the extent that elevators are being used to get to the second floor.
  • Meal times — in some countries, lunch is the main meal of the day where the whole family sits together and enjoys the food and company. After coming to the United States, a person might still keep his or her habits but also adapt to the American lifestyle and have a big dinner. So now, in addition to the main large lunch, there is another large dinner, not to forget the unhealthy snacking during the day. In addition to that, skipping breakfast followed by a large lunch that will slow down the metabolism causing weight gain.
  • In Restaurants, food comes in huge portion sizes, super-high calorie counts, or sky-high fat content, what makes them even more attractive is their inexpensive prices, not to forget the free refills, unlike in European countries where they serve small quantities with high prices. So people eat more, get used to eating more and expect to eat even more
  • Just like moving or visiting any new other country, there is always the curiosity to experience new foods, and in the United States most of these foods are fatty ones. Also, finding your favorite food (which might be expensive or unavailable in your country) for a reasonable price. So what do most people do? Buy a lot of it and eat it.
  • Last but not least, to keep up with the busy lifestyle, people buy processed, instantly cooked food that they have no clue of what’s in it. These foods are usually packed with preservative and minimal nutrients that have many negative effects on the body. Unlike the French who eat real fresh food that is full of nutrients and minimally processed, they also eat fewer quantities and slower than American do.

Finally, to maintain a healthy weight, one must eat a balanced diet with adequate servings of fruits and vegetables,  avoid those fatty foods and keep a physical active lifestyle.