I came into my study abroad experience with high expectations. I had a theory I wanted to test, a new perspective I wanted to gain.
I was under the impression that Italians were much healthier than Americans, and I wanted to see if this was really true. However, I have learned that the answer to this question is not black and white. There are many Italian cultural aspects that lend themselves to healthier lifestyle habits compared to the United States. Italians take more time to enjoy their food and to appreciate the labor that went into procuring it. Fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful while processed foods are less available, though still there. Also, food advertisements are less prevalent.
At the same time, I feel as though I romanticized Italy a bit too much. While eating fresh, local food seems to be more common and accessible, the industrialized Western Diet has started to encroach upon the Mediterranean Diet. According to the World Health Organization, obesity rates in Italy are only moderately lower than in the United States: 24 percent compared to 35 percent. Also, about a third of Italians do not meet the World Health Organization’s physical activity recommendations, which is similar to the United States.
Given these facts, I wonder if I have been too critical of the United States. While obesity is a pressing health problem, hope is on the horizon for change. There seems to be an increased interest in eating fresh, local food. Also, Americans are becoming more interested in where their food is coming from, wanting to know if their food is genetically modified or if their chicken has been raised with antibiotics.
Ultimately, I have learned not to be too judgmental about the typical American diet. Culture plays an integral role in influencing a person’s eating patterns, and this is not something that can be changed overnight. Having traveled to another country and having had to adjust to a new way of life, I can empathize with those hesitant to make changes. I have also learned, though, that the trick is to have an open mind and see where the adventure takes you.