My Experience Living Abroad In The Context of Health
When I first moved to England to pursue my Master’s degree in Nutrition (September 2016), there were two questions I was constantly asked…
1. How do you feel about Trump?
2. Did you leave American because it was too unhealthy?
And, although many people would like to hear the answer to both questions, this blog post will only be addressing the latter!
It was abundantly clear how the Brits viewed the American diet by walking into any supermarket. Down the international isle, there is always a small section devoted to the US, which is usually filled with Pop tarts, Twinkies, Reese’s cereal, Lucky Charms, Nerds (those little candies I hadn’t had since middle school), giant marshmallows, Snapple, Arizona Ice Tea, Beef Jerky, Easy Mac, and some other random foods I haven’t thought of in years (aka Nerds Rope). Additionally, there are a few “American Diner” restaurant’s I’ve stumbled upon in London, offering massive double cheeseburgers with fries (chips) and large milkshakes.
Here's a youtube video to show the American aisle of the supermarket (listen to the bias hahah) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5LgyW7Vc47E
And while I can 100% acknowledge all those things exist in America, that doesn’t mean all Americans exclusively eat those foods…
To be honest, I found it much easier to eat healthy in New York compared to London. Obviously, this may be because New York is home for me, I have lived there my whole life and know where to find the foods I enjoy. London was new and exciting, but I found myself struggling to find the healthy foods I enjoyed back in America. For example, there were plenty of times I found myself craving a chopped salad whilst in London. I knew if I was back in New York, I could pop into any deli or several chains (CHOPPED, Sweet Green, Cava, etc.) and create my own chopped salad. However, I only found 1 place (besides Whole Foods), where I can make my own salad. The same holds true for a sandwich or a wrap. There is always a deli or bagel place within a 2-block radius in Manhattan for a quick salad or sandwich where I can pick and choose what I want. However, I find that these items are all pre-made in the UK. The supermarkets and cafes are lined with pre-made sandwiches and salads labelled as “grab n’ go”. And while that is great for convenience, I feel like I have limited options, especially because I don’t eat meat.
The other major “healthy food” downfall in the UK compared to the US, is everything is the same no matter what city you are in. There are like 5 main supermarkets that carry virtually the same things. The only alternative supermarket is Whole Foods, which is the same setup as the ones in the US, but is only in London. However, I’m used to my traditional supermarkets, whole foods, trader joes, and other speciality markets that sell new and interesting brands and foods. In the UK, you are limited to Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, M&S, ASDA and Aldi’s. I just feel there is less variety as most carry the same things.
On the other hand, I can 100% acknowledge the UK has MUCH better chocolate (cadbury), biscuits (cookies) and candy… which is funny because I never really ate these back in America.
However, I find it really interesting that the UK has such a poor view of American health when their recent obesity statistics are not far behind…
Per the most recent CDC and NHS data, the US still tops the adult obesity chart with 39.8%. However, the UK is 6th on the list with 26% of British adults in the obese category. Additionally, that number has nearly doubled for the Brits in the last 25 years (15% in 1993). But the most shocking statistics, at least to myself, were the child obesity statistics. The most obese nation in the world (US) had an obesity rate of 18.5% in children, where the UK’s child obesity rates were 20%! This begs the question, since the UK has a higher adolescent obesity rate compared to America, will the UK’s adult obesity rates eventually surpass the US’s? (something to ponder). Some other questions to think about:
· What age groups are the public health initiatives targeted at?
· Are kids receiving more nutrition education in schools within the US compared to the UK?
· Are parents receiving the right messages?
· Beyond food, are kids in the UK getting enough exercise compared to the US?
At the end of the day, I was just shocked at how the UK portrays the US and this “mega unhealthy” country – which, to a degree it is! But, you should remember that America is a massive country, and the national statistics are an average across the states. So, of course there will be parts of the country whose obesity rates are extremely high, but there will also be states whose obesity rates are relatively lower. For an example, I am from New York, whose most recent obesity rate is 25.5%, .5% lower than the UK! I find it interesting how stereotypes impact that way Brits view Americans, even though they are not the gold-standard of health.
I am not here to make assumptions, just wanted to present my experience living abroad in the context of nutrition, healthy food availability and obesity statistics.
Most importantly, I hope this post just sparks some conversation around food and nutrition!