Last night, I had a discussion with Scott Davis, a neighbor who lives just up the road from me. His son Ian went to school with my eldest daughter Dee, and we exchanged information about the two “kids.” Ian married a women from Switzerland, who is fluent in English, French, and German, and at home she speaks French to her little children so that they will be bilingual. Both Scott and I agreed that this was a terrific thing to do, that nobody regrets being able to speak more than one language.
However, when I think of Switzerland, I quite naturally think of chocolate, and I mentioned this to Scott.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “They practically serve it at every meal. But you know what? The obesity rates in Switzerland are much lower than they are in the U.S.”
“Why do you think that is?” I asked.
“Well, when my wife and I went to visit our daughter-in-law’s family, we noticed that the Swiss walk everywhere, for fun and to get to places. Their portion sizes are much smaller, and their meals are leisurely. They don’t eat on the run.”
To sum up: The Swiss exercise more, eat less, and have more relaxed meal times. Sounds like a winning combination to me. The only thing I would add is that some countries make this healthy lifestyle easier for its citizens than other counties do. For example, it is my understanding that Switzerland has good public transportation and less sprawl. As a result, people don’t use cars as much and walk more.
Also, the Swiss government has mandated that all employees get 4 paid weeks of vacation a year. In the United States, the number of mandated paid vacation weeks is zero. Employers are not required to give their employees any paid vacation or holidays at all, and indeed I have worked in several jobs where I have had neither vacation time nor sick time. I know all too well that old, stressed overworked/underpaid feeling, and it is not a good one.
Let’s just say that it’s easier to have relaxed meals when you have a more relaxed schedule, with plenty of paid vacation time and some paid holidays thrown in to boot.
Now, this does not mean I think that individuals aren’t responsible for healthy and unhealthy habits. Quite the reverse—we are responsible for what we eat and how much we are exercise. But I also believe that we are societal beings as well as individuals, and some countries are better at promoting healthier, more relaxed societies than others are.
These countries, like Switzerland, usually have a high standard of living. They are not fringe countries where people are scrapping to survive for basic necessities.
And need I mention that Switzerland has universal health care for its citizens? No, but I’ll do so anyway.
So my question is, why don’t we do it more like the Swiss, when the benefits are so obvious?