Doug Mataconis has a post over at OTB on behavior and diet:
I’ll take Kuang’s description of the European cultural attachment to food as true, but it’s also true that Europeans tend not to live the same kind of on-the-go lifestyle that Americans have taken upon themselves. Taking two hours out of the day to prepare a meal isn’t quite as big a deal under such circumstances, and the attraction of popping a frozen pizza in the oven not nearly as apparent. That, combined with the fact that Europeans don’t seem to be nearly as sedentary as Americans, is likely one of the main explanations for why they are able to equal our caloric intake yet not suffer as many health consequences.
The post that Doug quotes from compares us, unfavorably of course, with Europeans.
We are not Europeans. According to the Census Bureau more than a third of Americans are Hispanic (mostly of mixed Native American and Spanish descent), black (presumably, of sub-Saharan black African descent), native American, Asian.
Even white Americans are not Europeans in several important ways. First, white is inclusive not only of Americans of purely European descent but those of Semitic and other non-European descent as well.
Second, it’s estimated that between 30% and 50% of Americans who self-identify as white have some Native American, Hispanic, or sub-Saharan black ancestry. Indeed, it’s suggested that most white Americans who believe themselves to have Cherokee, Arapaho, Paiute, or other ancestry actually have sub-Saharan black ancestry but that’s a subject for another post.
Third, most importantly, and unlike Europeans, Americans are mutts. I, for example, am Swiss, Irish, French, German from the Rheinland-Pfalz, Bohemian, and Scots-Irish. Most Swedes are 100% Swedish. Danes are Danes, Tuscans are Tuscans, Scots are Scots. Sure, those are admixtures, too, but in the very distant past and much less so than is the case with most Americans. Anybody who’s walked down the street of a small town in Scotland, England, France, Germany, or Italy where if you see with the right eyes the people look like members of a very large extended family by comparison with what you see walking down the streets of any but the most isolated American towns. That’s less true than it was even 50 years ago and there are some cases, e.g. Sicilians in which the people are as much mutts as we are. Sicilians are a wild stew of Italian, Greek, Turkish, Albanian, sub-Saharan African, and Lord knows what.
We know that heredity influences metabolism, how you process food. Anyone of primarily European descent who’s been out drinking with a group of Japanese men (as I have innumerable times) has undoubtedly seen that with his or her own eyes in quite dramatic fashion. We know that heredity can influence the metabolism of animal protein, fat, milk, and sugars as well as alcohol. We have no idea of the totality of the ways in which heredity influences how what you eat affects you. I strongly suspect that most people haven’t come to the obvious conclusion: you and I can eat identical diets, down to the milligram, and do identical things and we won’t have the same experiences.
I strongly suspect that there is more junk science and pseudo-science in nutrition, diet, and weight loss than in any other area of human experience because the stakes are so high. So, for example, I am highly suspicious of the epidemiological studies of very low fat diets because they rely so heavily on Chinese data. Not just because the data may be suspect but because I doubt the applicability of the findings to people who aren’t Chinese.
Yes, Americans are fat. Our rate of obesity is the highest in the world. And we eat too much, what we eat is crappy, and doesn’t even taste good. The power of marketing! We’re a large country and a lot of what we eat is bred to ship and store well not to taste good or be particularly nourishing. We have the highest average per capita daily calorie intake of any country in the world (although I seem to recall the Basques have a higher average daily calorie intake but haven’t been able to find the reference).
However, the country with the second highest rate of obesity is Mexico and the average daily calorie intake there is 15% lower than here while the calorie intake in Portugal almost identical to what it is here whereas the obesity rate is half ours.
I think that there’s a complicated relationship among how much you eat, what you eat, exercise, stress, heredity, your intestinal flora (which is likely affected by your use of antibiotics), and who knows what else. The studies comparing Japanese people in Japan with Japanese Americans isn’t just comparing what they eat (Japanese Americans are fatter). Exercise, behavior, and for all I know intestinal flora are different in thousands of ways. Anybody who claims to have found a simple solution is kidding themselves. Or you.