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Synergy TipsBelly Up to the Bistro


By Timothy Egan, The New York Times - 9/15/2011

Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.

PARIS — You’re reminded hourly, even while walking along the slow-moving Seine or staring at sculpted marble bodies under the Louvre’s high ceilings, that the old continent is crumbling. They’re slouching toward a gerontocracy, these Europeans. Their banks are teetering. They can’t handle immigration. Greece is broke, and three other nations are not far behind. In a half-dozen languages, the papers shout: crisis!

If the euro fails, as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said, then Europe fails. That means a recession here, and a likely one at home, which will be blamed on President Obama, and then Rick Perry will get elected, and the leader of the free world will be somebody who thinks the earth is only a few thousand years old.

You see where it’s all going, this endless “whither the euro question.” So, you think of something else, the Parisian way. You think of what these people can eat on a given day: pain au chocolat for breakfast, soupe à l’oignon gratinée topped by melted gruyere for lunch and foie gras for dinner, as a starter.

And then you look around: how can they live like this? Where are all the fat people? It’s a question that has long tormented visitors. These French, they eat anything they damn well please, drink like Mad Men and are healthier than most Americans. And of course, their medical care is free and universal, and considered by many to be the best in the world.

You’re reading David McCullough’s book “The Greater Journey — Americans in Paris,” the perfect companion. He follows writers, artists and thinkers from the New World to the Old in the 19th century, trying to learn something from the French. The innocents abroad are shocked at the bouts of savagery, as when the French violently turn on one another during the uprising of 1871. They like everything else. They return home renewed, and leave their marks on everything from sculptures in Central Park to modern medicine.

In the spirit of the book, you try to understand the French Paradox, and not just how red wine intake apparently allows these people to eat like my late colleague, the wonderfully Falstaffian R.W. “Johnny” Apple.

Recent studies indicate that the French are, in fact, getting fatter — just not as much as everyone else. On average, they are where Americans were in the 1970s, when the ballooning of a nation was still in its early stages. But here’s the good news: they may have figured out some way to contain the biggest global health threat of our time, for France is now one of a handful of nations where obesity among the young has leveled off.

First, the big picture: Us. We — my fellow Americans — are off the charts on this global pathology. The latest jolt came from papers published last month in The Lancet, projecting that three-fourths of adults in the United States will be overweight or obese by 2020.

Only one state, Colorado, now has an obesity rate under 20 percent (obesity is the higher of the two body-mass indexes, the other being overweight). But that’s not good news. The average bulge of an adult Coloradan has increased 80 percent over the last 15 years. They only stand out by comparison to all other states. Colorado, the least fat state in 2011, would be the heaviest had they reported their current rate of obesity 20 years ago. That’s how much we’ve slipped.

And you can’t cite these figures without talking about the health disaster. Americans spend $150 billion a year to treat obesity and related conditions — diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, cancers of the esophagus and colon. Annual medical costs for an obese adult are as much as $6,500 more, on average, than for healthy-weight adults.

We know the source of the problem. Unhealthful food is cheap and easy. We eat too fast, and our portions are too big. Attempts to warn people about the consequences of what they consume are quashed by corporate lobbies and their lackeys in the political system.

But bad trends are not irreversible. Campaigns and tougher laws against drunk driving have saved countless lives. Smoking has become the pariah it should be, and has diminished significantly. Even the French can no longer puff away on Gauloises inside bars and bistros.

Just as McCullough’s Americans learned to draw by studying the European masters here, we can learn from the French how to stop sickening ourselves with what should be the most pleasurable interludes of the day.

A study of how the French appear to have curbed childhood obesity shows the issue is not complex. Junk food vending machines were banned in schools. The young were encouraged to exercise more. And school lunches were made healthier.

In the United States, Michelle Obama has launched “Let’s Move.” It’s about as common-sense as anything our grandmothers told us: limit the sweets, get outside and play, eat fresh stuff. This sentiment found its way into a law passed by Congress last year that will, beginning in the 2012 school year, mandate the biggest overhaul of school lunches in years.

Predictably, the most calcified of conservative politicians have criticized the reforms, saying the new law is an unfunded mandate, forcing school to provide nutritional food to children. You want an unfunded mandate? Try the estimated 8 million more cases of diabetes American society will bear in a decade if present trends hold, including millions of unhealthy people who will arrive at emergency rooms, subsidized by the system.

But another answer can come from self-discovery. Every kid should experience a fresh peach in August. And an American newly arrived in the City of Light should nibble at a cluster of grapes or some blood-red figs, just as the French do, with that camembert.

One more thing worth passing along, somewhat existential, is an aphorism I first heard in Italy, though the French use it as well. Tell me what you eat, the saying goes, and I’ll tell you who you are.


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Synergy, located in Chesapeake, Virginia, is an integrative medical center that combines the best of traditional and holistic medicine. We specialize in integrative treatments for menopause, obesity, weight loss, diabetes, hypertension, and other health issues. Our services include bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, hormones, bioidentical hormones, diet, health, treatment for obese and overweight individuals, as well as nutritional food. The integrative center serves women in Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Williamsburg, Hampton Roads, Eastern Shore, Richmond, Virginia, and North Carolina.

 

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