As of today, I have officially been in Paris for two and a half weeks. As it is my first time in Europe, I continue to ask myself why the French are healthier than Americans, with one of the “lowest rates of cardiovascular disease in the world,” and what aspects of Parisian lifestyle I can incorporate into my own (Powell et al., 2010). I have internally balanced the cultural differences I have observed, trying to determine what factors outweigh the negatively viewed characteristics. Does the amount of walking Parisians do override the amount they smoke? Does the local food that is less processed outweigh negative effects of foods high in saturated fats like cheese? Is the secret to their health simply attitude and social culture, which results in less stress and greater happiness, the reason they live longer? To answer the question you’ve all been waiting for, and one I hear over and over, how do Parisian’s drink so much wine but stay so healthy? I have found myself wondering if the increase in my own wine consumption during the trip is problematic but realized that is only by American standards. Perhaps, the cultural view of alcohol (where it is viewed as a guilty pleasure) in the United States prevents the reduction in stress and otherwise positive benefits that are seen in France (Hansel et al., 2010).
Two weeks in, I currently believe that all these factors have close relationships with stress and stress may be the leading cause of negative health outcomes after comparing populations: “Americans can and should look to the French as a model for a healthy lifestyle that includes not just what a person eats, but the attitudes, behaviors, and social context within which one operates” (Powell et al., 2010). While one study (Hansel et al., 2010) studied the relationship between moderate drinkers to those that never drink and found cardiovascular and other health benefits in the moderate to low drinkers, stress undoubtedly connects as well. In Paris, the culture regarding wine is carefree and people take time to enjoy their meal (and take their time off work quite seriously- getting about 6 weeks of vacation time per year) (Powell et al., 2010). While the connection between potential health benefits and wine consumption is challenging to statistically separate from stress, I have concluded that when in combination, if I take the time to taste life (like the French taste by savoring) I don’t need to feel stressed about justifying ordering wine with dinner.
Hansel, B., Thomas, F., Pannier, B. et al. Relationship between alcohol intake, health and social status and cardiovascular risk factors in the urban Paris-Ile-De-France Cohort: is the cardioprotective action of alcohol a myth?. Eur J Clin Nutr 64, 561–568 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/ejcn.2010.61
Powell, L. H., Kazlauskaite, R., Shima, C., & Appelhans, B. M. (2010). Lifestyle in France and
the United States: an American perspective. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 110(6), 845–847. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.029