A conundrum

I spent some time in Germany recently and despite it’s dodgy history, Angela Merkel and full-throttle acceptance of the “conventional wisdom’ of latter-day economics, it’s still a pretty neat country.

I mean, it’s neat in every sense: tidy, largely rubbish-free, not too much graffiti (Berlin is covered in it, but I think it’s viewed as an ‘art form’ their. Huh.) and quietly attractive. It’s public transport is joined up and cheap (e.g..it cost us 10 euro for two people for 3 days…read that in First Bus Britain and weep), and the cities seem more, well, sensible: nice flats and green spaces gathered around transport hubs and with decent local facilities and parks.

But to someone piggy and fond of beer like myself, the fantastic thing about Germany is that hand-held food is available everywhere – huge pastries, cakes and butties – and drink is cheap and plentiful. They drink it by the litre for chrissake! Fatty pork in a dozen forms is the menu mainstay and fresh vegetables tend to feature as ‘garnish’. Let’s face it, salad to a German person is fermented cabbage and sticky, mushy potato. I love it.

Germany is 13th on the fattest country in the world index – that is not necessarily cause for celebration of course, but here’s the thing, the UK is third. Yep, that’s us only slightly thinner than folk from the US and Mexico. Germans,  with their inexhaustible appetite for pork and cheese, beer, wine, schnapps and cake is ten places lower than us.

In Britain people are currently certain that our fattiness comes from too much sugar, fast foods and sitting around – the Germans like to put cola in their beer and they are only marginally less likely to drive to work, and as mentioned they’re no stranger to a cheese sandwich or a cream puff. We are told that if we put water on the table and hide the fatty stuff in a supermarket then the UK will be thinner; in Germany beer is always on the table and pizza is available EVERYWHERE. 

It’s a conundrum isn’t it? Well, not if you consider this – income equality and health are so inextricably linked that you can improve your health outcomes just by moving from the poorer part of your town to the richer; if you took money of the rich and gave it out to more of the poor you’d almost certainly improve their mortality rates in less than a decade. Richer people tend to eat more fruit and veg, have better quality diets in general and better access to first rate healthcare, they have money for hobbies and pastimes, gym membership, golf course fees and dance classes, they go to the theatre (instead of staying home in front of the TV), they live in greener, leafier parts of the world where a walk is pleasant pastime, not a necessity to get you to the nearest crap supermarket. They have jobs that engage them and reward them well, so they are not fed up and depressed, their children have hope for the future and aren’t a source of wordless anxiety.  

Germans have a better standard of living and less income inequality than the UK – so is it still a mystery that they love beer, cake and sausage and are still lighter than their UK equivalents? Are you sure it’s the fat that people eat and the sugar that they drink that is the problem here? 

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