Oversize Italians

What Women Really Think
July 14 2011 5:19 PM

Oversize Italians

116310751
Getty Images

This morning NPR had a report from the home of the Mediterranean Diet, the town of Pioppi in Italy, that Italians are becoming some of the largest citizens of Europe. More than one-third of Italians ages 12 to 16 are overweight or obese. The report talked about the work of American nutrition researcher Ancel Keys, who came to Italy during World War II, was impressed with the health benefits of the diet the Italians ate, adopted it himself, and lived to be 101. There is a little museum in Pioppi devoted to Keys’ work, and the reporter read a quote from Keys in which the scientist described his diet: “a good pasta with beans, a lot of bread” vegetables, fruits, olive oil and occasionally meat and fish.  Hearing this, my initial reaction was, “Eat lots of pasta and bread to get thin?”  The report went on to try to identify why Italians have strayed from their high-carb diets, and the source of their extra pounds, and the villain was meat.

The story made the case that around the world when people who have mostly lived on staples (pasta, bread, rice, corn) switch to American-style high-fat, high-meat diets, their weight soars. But what does this mean to all the people pushing Atkins-style high-protein diets, and researchers such as Gary Taubes, who believe easily available carbohydrates are the reason so many people are so fat? This story was a reminder that the search for a single cause of the alarming world-wide increase in body size is bound to fail, just as is an attempt to find a pharmaceutical which will end obesity.  When Keys went to Italy, the great-grandparents of today’s fat teenagers were poor people who were hard-pressed to get enough calories and spent more of their days engaged in physical labor. That world has flipped. We now have to expend psychological effort to avoid ever-available food, and schedule some minimum amount of time a day away from the desk. If we were to suddenly eliminate meat from the diet of today’s obese I doubt it would be the equivalent of a gastric bypass.  All this makes me wonder that unless we go back to conditions of food scarcity and physical labor, is the human race on a path to a majority of us having bodies completely different from our ancestors?

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 2:57 PM ISIS Helps Snuff Out Conservative Opposition to Government Funding Bill
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Games
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 1:01 PM A Rare, Very Unusual Interview With Michael Jackson, Animated
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.