It’s not food that makes us fat, it’s the laziness too

22 Aug

McDonaldsPoor McDonald’s. The fast-food megalith gets its share of warranted criticism – as is the case for low employee wages – but it also gets unfairly picked on for many social ills, with obesity being the big one (no pun intended). It’s at the point where, at least in the Western psyche, the chain is synonymous with poor health and being overweight.

Case in point: The Guardian had some fun-with-numbers last month in regards to how many McDonald’s restaurants are in each country. Some of the findings were pretty cool, such as the measure of outlets per capita. Monaco and Andorra are actually first and second, respectively, in terms of how many Mickey D’s they have per person. But, if such small countries aren’t counted, the results look more like what we’d expect: the United States and Canada are respectively first and second.

The authors of the report also instinctively attempted to prove that the prevalence of McDonald’s could be tied to different countries’ obesity rates, as reported by the World Health Organization, but they weren’t as successful as they expected to be. “There is a correlation, but it’s not as strong as we first thought,” they wrote.

Their 10 most obese countries, as well as the respective obesity rates:

  1. American Samoa (82.6%)
  2. United States (78.6)
  3. Kuwait (74.95)
  4. Argentina (74.45)
  5. New Zealand (74.05)
  6. Mexico (73.3)
  7. Australia (71.1)
  8. Chile (70.85)
  9. Malta (70.45)
  10. Greece (70.35)

The top 10 McDonald’s per capita countries with at least a million people are:

  1. United States (22,174)
  2. Canada (24,616)
  3. Australia (25,317)
  4. New Zealand (27,317)
  5. Puerto Rico (34,925)
  6. Japan (38,903
  7. Sweden (41,923)
  8. Singapore (42,299)
  9. Israel (45,976)
  10. Austria (45,992)
  11. Kuwait (48,515)
  12. France (52,223)
  13. Switzerland (52,269)

Four countries – the United States, Kuwait, Australia and New Zealand – appear on both lists.

Interestingly, the newspaper put together a similar feature last year on the laziest countries in the world. Those countries, along with their respective percentages of inactivity:

  1. Malta (71.9%)
  2. Swaziland (69)
  3. Saudia Arabia (68.8)
  4. Serbia (68.3)
  5. Argentina (68.3)
  6. Micronesia (66.3)
  7. Kuwait (64.5)
  8. United Kingdom (63.3)
  9. United Arab Emirates (62.5)
  10. Malaysia (61.4)

Three countries – Malta, Argentina and Kuwait – appear on both the obese and inactive lists, while a deeper study of both turns up a greater correlation between obesity and inactivity in general.

The WHO itself attributes obesity to two factors, not just one:

  • an increased intake of energy-dense foods that are high in fat; and
  • an increase in physical inactivity due to the increasingly sedentary nature of many forms of work, changing modes of transportation, and increasing urbanization.

While junk food certainly plays a role in obesity, it would be nice if it stopped getting all the instinctive blame for it. In many cases, we have no one to blame for our fatness but ourselves.


Posted by on August 22, 2013 in food, mcdonald's, obesity


4 responses to “It’s not food that makes us fat, it’s the laziness too

  1. Simon

    August 22, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Couldn’t agree more. The only argument against this, which depending on where you live and what your income is, that has any merit is that it’s getting more expensive to eat a healthy diet. But even if your food isn’t perfectly balanced, it’s energy-in vs. energy-out balance that contrives to make us fat. You could eat fast food three times a day if you had a correspondingly active lifestyle. I don’t recommend it, but you wouldn’t get fat.

  2. Marc Venot

    August 22, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    Since you like so much those numbers maybe some entrepreneur should buy (or propose it on Kickstarter) a franchise from Paradox Interactive to make of them a game and play different strategy?

  3. Mike

    August 23, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Just to clarify, the numbers in your first table are for overweight, not obesity. We would be well past health crisis and into health apocalypse if 78.6% of Americans were obese.

  4. russellmcormond

    August 23, 2013 at 11:53 am

    I’m someone who fits into that overweight category (Doctors call obese, but that term used too much to mean much these days), and have found from experience that physical activity is a much higher influence on my health than diet. I can eat all the right foods all I want, and I remain unhealthy. I get off my *ss and get some exercise, and I can eat crap and end up pretty healthy.

    After being told about high blood pressure and other problems from my doctor earlier this year I’ve gotten back to walking — most days doing the 10K walk home, and more on many weekends. And food? With all that activity I’m more hungry and eating more, but feeling much more healthy than I was before.

    There is a quite visible difference in my body shape/etc from the exercise over the last few months, something I don’t get when I “go on a diet”. Eating less food and “healthy” food even depresses me, although diet experts never like to talk about quality-of-life questions surrounding food.

    But — ick — I don’t like McDonalds food — not that I eat low-fat (I’m a Meatatarian) or avoid fast-food-ish type places, but McDonalds has just never been my thing. Now, thinking about Thai Express just before noon makes me wonder if I should be heading that direction rather than eating what I brought 🙂

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