Having just returned to the UK after having spent a week in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a week in Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovenia, it has once again opened my eyes to the huge contrast between the way of living in different countries.
I was pleasantly surprised by how active and healthy the people from especially Crotia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovenia seemed to be. While I was there I did not notice many overweight and/ or obese people and it seemed as if the locals used public transport and/or walked a lot more than in many other countries. Especially compared to the UAE where the majority of people own their own car and drive EVERYWHERE.
Another observation I made was the limited number of fast food chains and stores that I came across in Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovenia, again in comparation to the UAE and even the UK. I only saw TWO McDonalds, no Costa Coffee, Starbucks, Burger King or Kentucky Fried Chicken (of course there probably are more, but compared to the UAE where there are hundreds of fast food chains/stores all over the place, they were either surprisingly well hidden or very few of them in these three countries). In addition, there were also very few fast food banners and advertising on the streets in the three previously mentioned countries.
As a health professional and being the out-going and curious person that I am, I’m always very interested to hear about the lifestyle in the different countries that I visit. Therefore, when I travel I usually make contact to some of the locals to see and hear how they live.
People in Croatia were friendly, open-minded and generally spoke very good English, so it was fairly easy for me to get in contact with people. I spoke to quite a few people in shops, on the street and in restaurants, and I ended up having some very nice and interesting conversations about health, food and life in general. Also, in Bosnia-Herzegovenia I tried talking to people. However, it was a bit harder for me as not many people spoke English or at least very good English. But I still managed to find two very nice and friendly people who I had some interesting conversations with. Surprisingly, it was very similar things the people from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovenia told me when I asked them about food/fast food and eating out. They all mentioned that going out to eat only happens on rare occassions and that people generally cook their own food at home. I was so happy when I heard this as this is how I grew up and how I believe it should be. When I was a child we only went to McDonalds on special occassions, such as birthdays and we were only allowed candy on weekends. However, this has in the majority of homes and countries changed, and now fast food, candy, ice cream, soda etc. is an everyday food and no longer a treat.
However, the people that I spoke to did mention that the younger generation has started to change and fast food is becoming increasingly more popular. Therefore, a prevalence in adolescent obesity has been witnessed within the last decade (very sad news).This change is not only due to economic growth but also the advances in technology and the impact of the media which all form part of the increasing globalisation.
Just look at the UAE. There is an unbelieveable amount of wealth in this country, but on the contrary they are facing a huge crisis in the number of children who are overweight and / or obese as it is suggested that a third of the children in the UAE are either overweight and / or obese. In addition, they rank the second highest in the world for the prevalence of diabetes. So much for being a wealthy nation!
Obesity is generally a sensitive topic and especially when discussing childhood obesity as parents either tend to not want to admit that their child is overweight or obese or they basically cannot see it. However, in the UAE one is perceived as “healthy” when he or she is overweight which therefore makes it difficult to change public perception of what constitutes to being a healthy weight and what overweight or obesity is. Campaigns and strategies have started to be implemented to combat childhood obesity and put more awareness on the rising importance of nutrition and physical activity, but there is still a long way to go.
Childhood obesity is increasing in large parts of the world and has become part of the globalisation. We therefore need to stop, think and act on this before it gets out of hand, as obesity often is related to other co-morbidites such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease etc. which can not only decrease one’s happiness but more importantly one’s life expectancy.
Think, stop and act today and forever!