I've been visiting Amsterdam for the last few days, and I'm astounded at how tall, lean, and healthy the locals look. And yet, when you go to a museum and look at the paintings of the 17th Century Dutch, many appear overweight and sickly, with some even morbidly obese.
Unlike most of the First World, the Dutch seem to be getting leaner. And while I don't know much about their health statistics, they certainly look healthy (especially compared to the American and British tourists walking around). What are they doing right?
We also need to look at their social policies. They have more frequent and longer vacation, better healthcare, better maternal care and leave, better access to child care, and they walk more. Those factors lead to less stress and overall health. Plus...they cook more than we do and don't rely on fast food :)
The paintings are of rich people. Being overweight was once a sign of affluence.
European countries generally eat healthier then the US and UK from what I've read
I go up to Holland a few times a year and each time I'm up there, I try to visit a market to buy butter and cheese. The first time I did this, I asked the guy working the dairy trailer if the cattle used to produce the butter/cheese/etc. were grass fed. He looked at me funny and said, "Of course. What else would cows eat?" I probed a bit further and the guy assured me that the majority of cows were kept outside and grazed naturally. In the winter, they were fed hay. When I told him I lived in Germany, he chuckled and said he now understood why I was buying so much butter and cheese to take back with me.
The Dutch are well-known for being very active people. In every city I've been to in the Netherlands, most people do in fact use a bike for transportation or walk. The Netherlands is not a big country, but I run in to Dutch people all the time skiing, camping, hiking, and climbing in the Alps.
Overall, I would say, yes, the Dutch are a very healthy looking people. Probably the healthiest in Europe that I've seen. However, you do see your share of overweight (not obese, though) people out and about. Keep an eye out when you walk by a McDonalds or Burger King. They are packed with young people. It's the same here in Germany and everywhere else we go in Europe.
Fast food has definitely become more prevalent over the five years that I've lived here. It will be interesting to see if what has happened in the US happens here. The Germans are very concerned as statistics have now shown that they are as fat as Americans are overall. Will this happen in other European countries? Who knows, but if the youth keep chowing down the fast food like they are, it won't be long before they catch up to Germany and the US.
Another Dutchman here. Coming from a coastal town, I make the following observations:
At least along the Dutch coast fish is a staple food, available to almost everyone who has relatives in the fishing industry. In my hometown there is a tradition to bring free of charge fish to non-fishing relatives. I have cousins who actually catch and prepare incredible amounts of fresh shrimp themselves when there is an upcoming party.
The Dutch national kitchen is a variety of the west German farmers kitchen, so lots of high yield energy food, including lots of fats and carbohydrates. Historically this got offset by hard labour. It is simple cooking, and bereft of all added extra's.
Up until the EU intervened local slaughterhouses were fairly common, my parents used to get fresh meat from the butchers in incredible amounts. My grandfather was a CEO, still he had chickens in the yard and even a pig (50s-60s)
Meat or fish is served at every dinner, and fast-food is not considered proper dinner. It is considered rude to serve guests take away, fast food, or pizza. my mother would probably strangle me if I ever served that to guests. Fast-food is considered a "snack".
Obesity is frowned upon, as it is considered a sign of a lack of eating disciplin, laziness or lower status. A family of obese people will be deemed "poor". In social settings obese people will often apologize with various medical reasons.
Sports is socially required. Doing no sports whatsoever is frowned upon and considered unhealthy. People will try to convince you to do something.
Due to a centuries old trading tradition exotic foods are quite common and have found their place in the national kitchen. "Colonial" cooking is very common: Indonesian, Surinam and antillian dishes are known to everyone.
an influx of immigrants since the late 50s has influenced how the Dutch handle and select food. There's interesting research on that.
the Dutch government is very active in health issues. Active promotion of a healthy lifestyle is a government task, and although recession is taking it's toll, subsidies are quite common. Unhealthy habits are actively discouraged by government measures. In the fifties 70% of the population smoked, last year only 25% smoked. Smoking is getting to be synonymous with socially unacceptable.
The food industry is quite regulated, with several fora where they speak with health professionals and government bodies. Consumers are organized as well, and have quite a powerful lobby.
Cycling and walking are considered preferable modes of transport. Employers will actually subsidize a bicycle with government aid, and an extensive cycling infrastructure exists and is maintained. Going to a nearby supermarket with a car is considered lazy and unnecessary.
Supermarkets and food stores are always planned to be in relative walking distance. It is easier to go out and find fresh food, then it is to find fast food. Except food delivery off course. A Dutchman will rarely have to travel more then five minutes for lettuce, and if he does, it is considered bad city planning. In the selection of a house the distance to shops is usually a variable.
People are encouraged to make conscious decisions in all areas. Poor health choices are not considered to be a fault of the supply or society, but rather a fault of the consumer. "Just because it is there, doesn't mean you have to eat it". Taking McDonalds to court for obesity would be considered frivolous by Dutch standards.
Thanks for all the compliments. Being Dutch and living in the Netherlands we are a couple of years behind the USA. So as a Nation we are getting fatter and fatter but we are right now on a level where you guys were in the 90's. Furthermore we are indeed more active almost everyone owns a bike and most of us use it on a daily base. We also walk a lot. I to smile when I hear about cornfed cows. Whe send the cows out into the fields during the warmers seasons and in stables during winters. They eat grass al year long.
Silly answer I read on line "The Dutch are so tall because their country is so low. They have to be tall to see over all the dikes!"
Seriously, from Googling, it appears that they eat lots of meat, dairy products and fresh, inexpensive vegetables. And they get plenty of exercise. Genetics is a factor, of course. And good health care for all.
There is lots of information about this online, e.g. Why are the Dutch so Tall and Healthy. Google for it.
Ironically, what they are doing right might be the consequence of them something doing wrong. They can not cook! Their food is horrible!
I'm a Belgian, so their southern neighbour, and I know! They are constantly coming to our country to enjoy our delicious food and beer. And if they have eaten and drunk al they can, the burn the calories by making a lot of noise!!
And they are cheap!
By the way, the Dutch and the Belgians try to make fun out of each other on every occasion we have. So: ;-D. In reality we really like each other, but just a little bit...
(ok, bring on the stupid belgian jokes!)
Being a Dutchie myself...I have to say it also differs per region. Yes in The Northern parts peeple cycle a lot as a means of transportation,this also has to do with the fact that one indeed easily cycle 20km to&from work within reasonable timerange bc the landscape is pretty flat. However in The Southern part,where I live,there's increasingly more hills which makes it more of a struggle&time consuming to cycle 20km to work.So people here move around a lot less (also more unemployment),which can also be seen bodywise. Just one example of the many factors one has to calculate on the whole scheme.
But cheese/dairy is indeed a pretty regular staple in most households.:) There's even this cheese,which now is the season for,that's called 'graskaas' literally translated "grass(fed)cheese". Every year in the beginning of spring,the cow's get to be&eat outside 24/7 again,grazing the fields. So this &most types of cheeses indeed don't need to be asked if they are from grassfed cow/sheep/goat.:)
However,like Rick said,we're going well on our way to the SAD standards. Low-fat products/dairy,wholewheat,eat 2 pieces of fruit a day etc. All kinds of hidden sugars/sweeteners and lots of MSG&other additives in food.
Being born in Holland, but now living in Sweden I can see differences.
When thinking about making dinner, the Dutch think: what vegetables shall we have tonight, and then they complete with meat, while here in Sweden they think: what meat are we going to have, and then they may have a wow-sallad consisting of a sallad leaf, some tomato slices and some cucumber. The dutch eat a lot more cooked vegetables. A homecooked steady dinner around 17-18 o'clock is also very satiating.
Being lean can be explained by bicycling, yes. The country is very crowded and parking your car in Amsterdam is not fun. So every citizen owns a bike. My grandmother still biked when she was 83. Short distances, flat country. It's not at all that fun to bike in Sweden, though I try ;)
Being tall I always have got explained to me that we drink so much cow milk, and that cow milk makes us grow tall.
BUT: I also have noticed that the dutch dairy is much sweeter than the swedish. There are desserts that the swedes don't have. Could also be that all the sugar (eaten as dessert, not raising the blood sugar that much after a meal maybe?) makes us grow tall.
Living just a couple of kilometers to the dutch border in Germany, I often travel there and also meet a lot of dutch in my neighbourhood.
My guess would be a combination of genetics and lifestyle as the key ingredients.
1) Genetics: Driving through small villages across the border it always strikes me how much different the silhouettes of people look. Women in the netherlands look more... womanly and men more manly. A lot. Hips, shoulders - everything is more pronounced, has a clear outline. I don't know a lot about genetics, though. But they clearly look different on average (not just because of the more tasteful clothing).
2) The dutch as a people appear to be WAY more happy and friendly. The social system makes more sense to me as it seems to leave more choices for the individual, there's less standardization, less pressure, more diversity (compared to German standards). It seems to me that they care less about unimportant things and more about what truly matters to them. The result, as I see it, is more happiness. And as I tend to say: Happiness is healthy.
As an aside, I recently saw a video/talk stating tha the dutch now displaced the US as being the country with the tallest people on the world. I think it (the veideo) even was in a paleo/nutrition context but I just can't remember where I found it.
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