WE KNOW the world is getting fatter, but now a new analysis of the global body mass index has revealed how much our waist has grown in 40 years — and the results are “frightening”.
In the largest study of its kind, which focused on 19 million participants, the survey revealed the amount of obese people around the world has increased from 105 million in 1975, to 641 million in 2014.
Over the past four decades, we now have more obese people in the world than those who are considered underweight, and in just eight years’ time — one in five people will be obese on a global scale.
The study, which was published in UK medical journal The Lancet, showed that men and women were getting around 1.5kg heavier each decade, and almost a fifth of the world’s obese adults live in just six high-income English-speaking countries; Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, UK, and USA.
But there are a few countries that have bucked the trend — and they are the ones best known for their wine, chocolate, cheese and pastries.
Women in Belgium, France and Switzerland, and those in Singapore and Japan had virtually no increase in average BMI over the 40 year period. In comparison, 38 per cent of Australians are set to be obese by 2025 alone.
“There has been virtually no increase in BMI in the women of Belgium, France and Switzerland — the countries associated with good chocolate, cheese and wine,” Professor Jennie Brand-Miller from the University of Sydney said.
“We need to study them [the women] carefully … and learn from them.”
HAVING YOUR CAKE AND EATING IT TOO
French women are known for their strategies of how to eat decadent food and still maintain their figures. They tend to not diet, and don’t spend hours working off cake or chocolate each night at the gym. Basically, they are the experts in having your cake and eating it too.
In Anne Barone’s In Chic and Slim: How Those French Women Eat all that Rich Food and Still Stay Slim, she suggests that French women start their motivation with their knickers.
“French women’s lingerie helps to keep them slim, [it’s] a constant reminder to make choices that pay off in slimness,” Barone wrote.
“Their belief in this principle is demonstrated by the fact that there are almost as many lingerie shops in Paris as bakeries.”
Laughs aside, the other major factor that differentiates the French dieting plan is that there isn’t one. The obsession on kilojoule counting and exercising to exhaustion doesn’t exist.
“Forget diets, they are no fun and don’t work,” she writes.
“What I learned from French women is that ultimately staying slim is not about counting calories or fat grams. It is not about exercise exhaustion.”
Instead, they savour their food. It’s for enjoyment, and not a chore. And they do not guilt themselves when drinking a glass of wine, even if it is followed by a row of dark chocolate.
French typically spend an hour or so eating their lunch, they don’t wolf it down behind a desk like many of us tend to do.
In an interview with The Guardian, nutritionist Francoise L’Hermite said the secret for the French keeping slim was their home meal preparation, as well as taking time out to consume a meal with family and friends.
“For France, a meal is a very particular moment, in which you share pleasure, the food as well as the conversation,’ Dr L’Hermite said.
“From an Anglo-Saxon point of view, food is just fuel to give energy to your muscles. If you have no pleasure in it, you are breaking all the rules of eating.”
Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, claims the “healthy relationship” French women have with food should also be implemented in our daily eating.
Selling more than one million copies in less than six months, Ms Guilliano said, after gaining weight as a teenager, that small portions of bread, champagne and chocolate were key to a balanced diet.
In an interview with the The Gourmet Traveller, the 69-year-old said women, and men, in France don’t succumb to “fad diets”, instead — they keep food at the top of their priority list.
“Food is pleasure. The French, they don’t believe in the big happiness thing — life is made of lots of little pleasures, and food is way on top,” she said.
“All diets are bad. There’s not one good diet, and that’s why many people in the press call French Women Don’t Get Fat the non-diet book, because it’s a lifestyle. Basically it says you can eat whatever you want. Just eat it in small quantities and take the time to enjoy it. [It’s about] the pleasure factor.
“We tend to eat three meals a day, breakfast being so important. And then we drink a lot of water between meals, we walk a lot — we are not gym freaks, we don’t actually like to go to gym — but we walk in the street, we walk to work, we walk to do errands, we walk the stairs a lot — we don’t have many escalators or elevators.”
HOW WE NEED TO ADDRESS OBESITY CRISIS
Nutritionist Joanna McMillan believes one of the big problems with Australians and their growing waistline is long working hours, and the mode of transport we take to and from work.
“This report highlights the fact the world is facing an epidemic of obesity,” Dr McMillan said.
“We need policies that make it easier for people to eat well, such as making healthy food more affordable and junk foods more expensive (yet our government is rejecting the tax on sugar-sweetened soft drinks), and be more active.
“This means better public transport, more cycle paths in cities, fewer work hours to allow for more active leisure time.”
Lennert Veerman from the University of Queensland agrees, suggesting access to junk food needs to be reduced, and the government needs to follow UK and France, and start taxing foods and beverages that are energy rich and nutritionally poor.
“To reduce obesity levels we have to clean up our living environment,” Dr Veerman said.
“We need to reduce access to energy dense foods and increase access to healthy food options like fruits, vegetables, foods based on whole grains.
“Other measures that are likely to be effective, tax energy-dense, nutrient poor ‘junk’ foods, starting with sugared drinks. Restrict advertising for junk foods, starting with ads targeting children. [And] stimulate employers to ensure workplace canteens offer healthy foods prominently.”