I live in England and first visited America in 1978; not long after cheap transatlantic flights became available for the first time.
Until that point the bulk of my knowledge of the USA came from Hollywood, or the myriad American televisions shows that came our way from early childhood. The TV shows, especially, supplied a kind of shared experience that some parts of the rest of the world have with Americans. In some respects I suppose we felt that we knew America.
When the opportunity came to finally go there I knew that once I was home again there would be lots of questions from family and friends. People would want to know what it was really like: What did I see? Where did I go? Who did I meet and so on? From the moment I arrived I was on the look-out for impressions to take back.
The odd thing was that initially there were none. Or rather there were impressions, but they were mainly that America was a lot like it was on TV. New York looked like New York, the people had American accents and they really did say ‘Have a nice day’.
I began to think that I was going to return to England without any anecdotes or news to swap over a pint in the pub. We will leave the best anecdotes for another day and concentrate instead on the two things that I noticed that never came across on TV – at least not back then.
Firstly, the highly formatted and slick television shows mainly showed attractive and wealthy people in salubrious surroundings. Yet in more than one city in America I found myself in ghetto areas; places you wouldn’t want to be. The poverty and squalor were obvious and back then I felt that it was somewhat under-reported.
The second revelation was the obesity problem. I had never before seen so many fat people in one place. In fact, that was my main takeaway from my whole American vacation,’ Hey everybody, you won’t believe how fat Americans are!’
That was 1978. Just a few years later, around 1984, my company sent me to Aarhus in Denmark, a sea port where the diet seemed to be centred around fish, particularly herring, as I recall.
On that occasion I wasn’t particularly anxious to go home and supply reports on the state of Denmark, but nevertheless, I was left with one overriding impression of my visit: the Danes were very slim compared to the British.
It was then that I put two and two together and realised that we (the Brits) were trailing along on American coattails, yet again. We were definitely becoming obese and the trend started a little while after it happened to America, sometime in the 1970s.
Since that time I have learned that the trigger was the usage of High Fructose Corn Syrup that began in America around 1970 and went on a strong upward curve thereafter, though dipping a little since 2000.
Aside from the hideous HFCS, food manufacturers have for a long time been adding sugar to absolutely everything that comes in a can or a packet. Check the labels of just about anything -even weight loss foods – and you will see that sugar is added. Given that Western society is hopelessly reliant on convenience foods this pretty much amounts poisoning the population.
Reuters recently reported that health related issues are costing America around $200 billion per year and researchers at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania say that obese men will generate around $1,500 medical costs per person per year and overweight women with cost double that amount.
In the 1960s around 13% of the American adult population were obese; today it’s over 35%.
Just how much sugar are Americans loading up with? From all sources it’s around 45 tsp per day per person, or around 152 lbs of sugar per year. That’s about 150 lb more than an early America settler would have consumed.
Clearly, this amounts to a major international scandal. Sugar is tasty and addictive. The food manufacturers well understand the problem that they have created, but left to their own devices they will do nothing about it.
Although some government officials in various countries may whinge and whine on the matter from the margins, there is nothing very positive or constructive being done anywhere.
For the time being if you want to live as healthily as possible, for as long as possible, you will have to take responsibility for your own health and your family’s, otherwise at some point in your lives there will in all probability be consequences.