There was a story a few days ago over at CNN discussing the problem of immigrants (and specifically their children) gaining weight after moving here. It’s not really much of a surprise that this happens – many go from a diet based on fresh foods (meat, vegetables), to a diet consisting of prepared meals that are packed with sugar and fat. It doesn’t help that many of these packaged foods are cheaper in the US compared to fresh produce:
“I would always cook a healthy dinner,” the 13-year-old’s mother, Visha Siew-Narine, says about mealtime on the island. “When he came here, I think the fascination of having all this food that we couldn’t afford in Jamaica, or that wasn’t really available, that was kind of new to him.”
In suburban Atlanta, things changed fast. The new foods were cheap, unhealthy and hard to resist: toaster waffles, corn dogs and the chocolate syrup Adrian liked so much he guzzled it straight from the bottle.
My favorite part of the story is the comment from Pat Crawford, the co-director of the Center for Weight and Health at the University of California – Berkeley:
“We really would like to encourage immigrant families to continue the kinds of eating that they ate in their country of origin because our studies show that the longer they’ve been in this country the more likely that their children are going to get fat”
That’s kind of sad, right? Sort of like saying “whatever you do, don’t adapt to our lifestyle! You’ll only end up really fat!” It’s actually amazing how quickly you can put on weight in that situation. My family had a foreign exchange student from Russia living with us for a year, and he probably put on about 20 pounds in the first 4 months. Granted, he was really skinny to begin with so he didn’t look fat, but certainly if he would have stayed in the US it would have been a hard battle for the rest of his life. Much like the kid described in the CNN article, our exchange student was fascinated by all of the “tasty” food here, and didn’t realize how much sugar and fat can be in such a small portion (check out the nutrition facts on a snickers bar, for example). Add to the great taste a really low price, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster – which is what we’ve seen in this country for the past decades, and what is now being noticed in our immigrants. The true American experience I suppose…eating poorly, rarely exercising, and getting fat.