Several years ago, my husband was invited to give a lecture in Paris. As a supportive wife, I accompanied him. (I hope you realize my attendance on that trip had nothing to do with support but everything to do with the French fashion and cultural scene.)
During the day while he was spending time in some drab lecture hall, I was roaming around the city shopping, eating at local bistros, and reading leisurely in the park. I thoroughly enjoyed “people watching” and noting cultural differences between the US and France.
The most notable difference was how much larger Americans were compared to Europeans. My husband and I would walk around picking out the people who were obviously from the states. The clothes in Parisian shops seemed to be tailored to fit a narrower frame. I recall an instance where my husband was discouraged from entering a clothing store because the employee looked him up and down and just shook his head no. There was no political correctness in Paris.
So, what makes us so different from other countries like France and Sweden? Those nations’ residents eat their fair share of sweets such as chocolate, and drink modest amounts of wine. I was astonished at the number of croissants and the amount of cheese eaten at breakfast daily. For instance, one morning while at breakfast, I saw a gentleman with six to eight pastries on his plate di lui. Yet, he was extremely thin.
However, a key difference I noticed was the amount of daily movement most Parisians performed. They walked everywhere: to the local market, to work, and to their various entertainment activities. You also noticed a lot of bike riders. A lot of people also used public transportation, which required walking to various bus and train stations.
Now, let’s compare that culture to ours. We barely walk around the block. We try to find the closest parking space to the door. Instead of taking our children to the park on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we prop them in front of the TV so they can play on the latest electronic gadget they received for Christmas.
Instead of encouraging the bike riders in our city, we complain they take driving lanes away to accommodate bicycles. Some communities don’t have bike lanes at all, especially neighborhoods that are predominantly minority.
We have also created communities that make it more difficult to walk to local restaurants and grocery stores. We are a culture of convenience, and our waistlines are expanding because of it.
Minority communities often lack green spaces or, if they do exist, they are plagued with gun violence. Therefore, those spaces go unused due to fear of harm.
Culture change does not occur by magic. It must be deliberate and intentional. If we do not want to see future generations with worse health outcomes than its predecessor, we must alter the course now. This means moving more. It means attending local ward meetings and discussing with local authorities, crime in and around our parks. Finally, it means choosing healthy options over convenience.
Denise Hooks-Anderson, MD, FAAFP is SLUCare Family Medicine interim assistant dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and an associate Professor