Rarely does a week go by that another story pops up somewhere decrying Americans’ “meat-heavy” diet as the cause of some serious societal ills—plus a few others that have nothing to do with diet and nutrition.
If it’s any consolation, the situation in Germany is similar, with meat consumption being targeted as the culprit in an increasingly worrisome problem afflicting virtually all of Western Europe.
According to a recent article published by Deutsche Welle (“German Wave”), “Many Germans still stick to their unhealthy diet of too much meat and alcohol. Though there are some positive trends, too many Germans are still overweight, and also at risk of other illnesses, like cancer.”
Indeed, a new study by the Robert Koch Institute reported that 53% of women and 67% of men in Germany are now considered overweight; the researchers also noted a significant increase in the more serious statistics on obesity.
Got that? Despite those “positive trends,” meat (and alcohol) are responsible for causing obesity and cancer.
“Whether it’s pork knuckle, sausage, schnitzel or potato salad, the traditional German cuisine is heavy on meat, fat and calories,” the article stated.
Pretty strong statements, right?
However, here’s how the article continued: “But eating habits are somewhat different these days. A 2012 report on what Germans eat, commissioned by the government in Berlin, shows that habits are changing.”
Meat eating in decline
How are they changing? According to a 2012 study by the German market research firm GfK Panel, “The younger generation [in Germany] is eating much less (sic) meat and sausage products than older consumers, and they are not—or only rarely—willing to change their eating habits when growing older. Together with a declining population, this so-called ‘cohort effect’ will have a negative impact on the [meat] industry.”
In its report titled, “Decrease in meat consumption on the German market,” GfK forecast a 6% reduction in red meat consumption over the next 5 to 10 years, with the decline potentially reaching 9% during that time span.
By the way? Wine and beer consumption in Germany is also on the decline, according to government study.
So on one hand, some 60% of men and 43% of women in Germany are considered overweight, percentages that continue to increase. Why? “They’re overweight because they still eat too much meat,” Deutsche Welle concluded.
Yet on the other hand, meat consumption in Germany is declining, and the younger generation is projected to be consuming as much as 9% less meat per capita within the next 5 to 10 years. And alcohol consumption is also decreasing.
Not only that, but according to the Berlin report, the consumption of vegetables has increased by more than one kilogram per person per year since 2000. Currently, Germans eat about 25 kilograms (55 lbs.) of vegetables annually.
So let’s recap: Obese and overweight populations are increasing, and that’s obviously a problem. Meanwhile, meat-eating and alcohol consumption are decreasing, and Germans are actually eating more vegetables. Could it be possible that meat and alcohol consumption—both in decline—might not be correlated with the increase in obesity? Common sense would suggest as much.
So what is the cause of the obesity problem? The article offered a couple of clues:
The same governmental study that noted the increase in vegetable consumption also noted that Germany’s most popular beverage now is soft drinks, with overall per-capita sugar consumption also on the rise. Is it fair to suggest that dietary trend, as cops would say, ought to be “a factor of interest” in searching for causation?
Here’s how Deutsche Welle summarized such speculation: “It is often said that poor diets and too many hours in front of a computer—instead of exercise—are contributing factors [to obesity].”
Gee, ya think?
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.