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MSNBC TV
updated 7/10/2013 7:18:19 PM ET 2013-07-10T23:18:19

Word came this week that the U.S. is no longer the most obese nation. That distinction now belongs to Mexico, but the U.S. isn't far behind.

Let me finish tonight with this…

Word came this week that the U.S. is no longer the most obese nation.

That distinction now belongs to Mexico.

According to a United Nation’s report, here are the top ten obese nations:

1.     Mexico (32.8%)

2.     United States (31.8%)

3.     New Zealand (26.5%)

4.     Chile (25.1%)

5.     Australia (24.6%)

6.     Canada (24.2%)

7.    United Kingdom (23%)

8.     Ireland (23%)

9.     Luxembourg (22.1%)

10.  Finland (20.2%)

About 70 percent of Mexican adults are considered overweight; 32.8 percent are obese.

But the U.S. isn’t far behind with an obesity rate of 31.8 percent.

Having spent last week in Italy, I noted that European nation was not on the list  – despite a terrific culinary culture.

With all that good food, why aren’t the Italians more obese?

It’s a subject I got into with an Italian tour guide after I told him I was surprised I didn’t have a headache the morning after putting a serious dent in a bottle of Chianti Classico.

Driving on a beautiful Tuscan morning somewhere between Montepulciano to Pienza, “Piero” told me that the short answer about the wine was sulfites, but that it was part of a larger issue.

My friend, with a pretty good girth, said:

“I might be fat but my doctor says I’m healthy” he told me.   “No high blood pressure.  No diabetes.”

His weight, he said, was attributable to eating lots of food – but good, fresh food.

In the Italian countryside, that means lots of meat, fish, pasta, beans and vegetables.  My friend had traveled to the States, where he noted, we eat junk.

“No one loves cafe more than Italians but you’d never see us walking out of a Starbucks with one of those huge drinks,” he told me.

Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen a Starbucks.  Nor any fast food.  (He told me the McDonalds I’d seen in Florence was for the Americans.)

Punto, the local grocery store I visited a few times in a small village was about the size of a neighborhood WaWa or 7-11, only inside you wouldn’t find someone to make you a sub or hoagie.  You would find a full-time butcher, another person selling cheese and bread, and a full-time produce manager.

Piero told me “We call your processed food ‘jewelry’.  It’s imported and expensive.  We won’t be fooled by appearance if it doesn’t taste good.  If it’s not fresh, we’re not buying it.”

Punto was open in the morning and in the evening.  The hours off in the afternoon might no longer facilitate an enormous meal and a nap, but they do prevent people from eating at desks in cubicles.

The point is that it’s a food and a lifestyle issue.  The food reflects the lifestyle.  Their priorities are different.

When I got home, I checked on the Italian life expectancy and rate of obesity.

In Italy, it was 82.09 years in 2011 according to the World Health Organization compared to 78.64 in America.  And our rate of obesity (31.8)is about double Italy’s (17.2%) according to the UN report.

The explanation from my Italian friend was confirmed by Dr. Kenneth Thorpe, the Chair in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health.

He told me:

“Yes we eat more processed food heavier on fat sugar and corn. Europeans generally eat fresher food (and smaller portions). It’s the difference between fresh food vs processed food”

Here’s the obvious point: It’s not only how much we are eating – it’s what we are eating.

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