Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The UES paradox... is no paradox

Waddling, I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to disagree with you on a couple points:

It is simply not true that "all French people, not just women, remain lean and trim." They're not as heavy as Americans, and have better diets overall, but are catching up. In fantasy-France, everyone has full-fat yogurt with fruit for breakfast and steak frites, salad, and red wine for dinner, but all in small portions, of course, and fits into a small size at agnes b. In real-life-France, there are stops at Quick (a fast-food chain) and there's easy access to candy bars, some even of the Twix variety.

And it's also not true that "incidental" walking--i.e. walking to work, to the store, etc., rather than driving-- is "the kind of exercise that slaughters calories." It would be nice if a 45-minute walk could keep you slim, but it's unlikely. Sure, it beats 45 minutes spent eating Cheetos, but it doesn't do much more for you than 3/4 of an hour, say, blogging.

The French paradox is immensely appealing--how do they do it?--but doesn't wash. (And this is not meant as a slight to the French, who, for the most part, do wash.) Ignoring that actual French people do not all follow it...the "French" way of life will make an overweight American a little bit lighter, but will put such a person at risk for all sorts of tobacco- and red meat-related diseases. For those who need a culture to emulate when trying to lose weight, the lifestyle of wealthy Americans in places like Manhattan will keep a person far thinner and healthier than the traditional French diet of cream, meat, tobacco, and wine. And such a lifestyle doesn't require an i-banker income--just eat very little, maybe do some serious exercise, like running (which requires no gym membership or special equipment), and make sure that your peers are super-bitchy and will make you feel bad about passing the 100-lb. mark.


Anonymous said...

then how do you figure that france has one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world?

Anonymous said...

Cirrhosis gets them first?

Anonymous said...

Walking around France they seem to have a considerably higher proportion of attractive women then the US. Of course it helps that the average standard of dress is far higher.

Anonymous said...

Actually incidental walking can make a big difference. An hour spent walking as opposed to sitting around can make a 100 calorie a day difference. At 3600 calories a pound, that 10 pounds a year. Even a half an hour a day can make a real difference. I remember that one study calculated that moving from a manual, swing your arm to slide the platten on each line, typewriter to an electric, hit return, typewriter could cause a secretary who does a fair bit of typing to gain a pound a year.

It isn't just high income New Yorkers who are in better health than most Americans. It includes most of the middle class as well. It is the poor people who tend to pack on the pounds. In France, the voitures are everywhere, but they still value urban life, so a lot of people still walk around a lot more than Americans. The French also believe in portions, as opposed to our national slogan, "Eat, all that you can eat".

The French, followed by the Italians, have much lower rates of heart disease than most people because they drink more red wine. I have some numbers on this. They also do have a higher incidence of liver disease (and not just crise d'foie, which is how the French say belly ache). However, the incidence of heart disease is so much higher that you'd have to drink gallons (dekalitres) of wine daily before each further glass increases the risk to your liver more than it decreases the risk to your heart.

Yes, the French are driving more and exercising less. Yes, they are eating more fast food. However, they still have a ways to go before they can rival the Americans, or the Germans.

Of course, the real paradox is in the developing world. In India, they have two challenges: starvation and obesity, each with its own medical problems. At least we aren't being told to leave something on our plate because their are overweight children in India who need the insulin more than we do.