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The French Paradox

post #1 of 78
Thread Starter 
Living in the US and then taking a trip to Paris France I have noticed something that is just simply a fact. The French are on balance much thinner and in much better shape than Americans. The funny thing is that I would say the French eat better quality and richer foods than Americans on the whole. Rich foods such as croissants, cheeses, wine, as well as carb rich foods such as baguette breads and other treats are often found in the French diet.

When I walked the streets of Paris and went in and out of Metro stations to use the subway system I noticed women such as one who must have been in her late 70's early 80's walking at a more brisk pace than I was at my young age. On the flip side of the coin when I returned to the US via Atlanta GA I was never so shocked to see such a percentage of obese Americans. In fact at Hartsfield airport in Atlanta GA upon arrival from the international trip from Paris the passengers arriving in the US have to check into two sets of lines. One is the line for US citizens and the other is the line for visitors. Needless to say the line holding Americans returning to the US was a line that contained on average a much greater percentage of obese people. The line of people in the visitors line (people from France and other Europeans visiting the States) consisted of almost 99% slim and in shape people. Once checking into the airport and walking around to see the American workers who work at the airport you see a bad picture where by you see what I would call almost morbidly obese people sucking on the straw of very large sodas at their counters or desks.

So given I have seen the contrast first hand this subject is a very fascinating one to me. What are the variables in play here. Does the French diet and lifestyle need to be embraced by more Americans? I would say a resounding YES to that.

Here are some statistics to consider:

"Only 8% of the French people are overweight compared to almost 50% of Americans. They live longer and have less heart disease."

Taken from This Link

That alone should create some questioning of the American diet and lifestyle.

And keep in mind the French do eat carb rich and fat rich foods yet this statistic holds.

Diet is one thing but what about lifestyle and or cultural differences in regard to eating and other activities?

I found this quote to be of interest:

"France is not a place to rush through and the French don't. Cashiers in crowded markets take time to chat with shoppers, while the others in line wait patiently. Diners unhurriedly converse, even if the waiter takes an eternity to get them a menu.
____Eventually, you learn the French art of slowing down and savoring the moment."


Taken from This Link

Is it possible that Americans in general are far too often in a rush and this leads to poor food choices?

Could portion size have something to do with this?

"Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and CNRS in Paris compared the size of restaurant meals and even portions in cookbooks in France and the United States.
They weighed portions served up at 11 comparable outlets in Paris and Philadelphia. These included fast food outlets, pizzerias and ice cream parlours.
They found that Americans received substantially more on their plate."


Taken from This Link

What ever the differences the fact is very clear that the French are on to something. If I was going to suggest problems in american obesity in our culture I would guess that the large consumption of sodas and fries as well as an appitite for processed foods is largely to blame for american obesity. Of course I do not blame the foods but rather the people who consume them. One other thing I noticed from first hand experience is that in Paris it was common to see locals shop at small stores and purchase fresh breads and produce each day. In America you see people go to a mega store and stock up with $150 - $200 grocery bills to stock the shelves longer often times containing processed foods, salt laden foods, and frozen foods saturated with additives that can not be pronounced which is just the opposite of the fresh foods you see French locals buy and prepare.

One other subject I have to wonder about is the high consumption of hydrogenated fats in America as opposed to natural fats like olive oil and butter found more in the diet of the French. Not to mention the consumption of corn syrup in the US.

"High-fructose corn syrups and related sweeteners manufactured from corn starch became commercialized in the 1970s into major food additives. One food information Web site, at Oregon State University, describes the development of these sweeteners from corn starch as "one of the greatest changes in the sugar and sweetener industry over several centuries."
_
__ In 1980, soon after these substances became commercial products, Bray noted, the chart from the CDC demonstrates the beginning of a sharp rise in obesity for both men and women. From 1980 to 2000, the incidence of obesity at least doubled for men and women in the United States, while obesity had remained relatively flat for the preceding 20 years.

He said fructose, sweeter than either sucrose or glucose, sidesteps certain key regulatory processes in the body. For example, it does not stimulate insulin, which is believed to be part of an important feedback pathway involved with feelings of fullness._

__ At the same time, it stimulates formation of fat cells more than other sweeteners.
_
__ "Once inside the cell, it forms the backbone for fat molecules," he said of a key breakdown product of fructose."


Taken from This Link

I believe this is an interesting subject and one that needs attention as the health related costs which harm quality of life of those plagued by obesity and indeed society at large pays a huge price because of this issue.

What are your thoughts over this subject?

Your opinions are welcome,

Fellows
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post #2 of 78
One flaw in your thinking is that everything else is equal. Gentically the US is not equal to France.
post #3 of 78
Lots of interesting infos here.

Note that even in France there is two way of eating : the traditionnal one (what you discribe as french) and the new one (processed food, sodas, eating all day long, watch tv) that lead to obesity.

I think what you discribed the french way : the traditional way of eating : three meal per day : no food between them, good qualitie, no soda, exercice, eat slowly ... is the way you eat food in US some decades ago.

My wife, try to do honest cooking (she is a good cooker 8) ). We have three meals per day, and she oblige us to eat together. There is only water at meals (no sodas), very few processed food, olive oil ...
We spent a lot of money in food, but luckily we can afford it.

We try to limit the number of hours per day that our kids spend in front of TV (otherwise they will watch TV far too much). And we try to promote exercice.
However my current problem with my youngest daughter is to force her to eat (obesity is not his problem right now )
post #4 of 78
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by Scott
One flaw in your thinking is that everything else is equal. Gentically the US is not equal to France.

I am sure genetics is a factor in this but I am not so sure diet and lifestyle accounts for at least 75% of the picture. In the stat above in my opening post about Corn Syrup sweeteners and all the sudden a spike in american obesity is noticed a doubling no less one has to question all the Coke, Sprite, Dr. Pepper we drink here in the US. Such consumption is seen far less in Paris.

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post #5 of 78
shooting off the top of my head, you also should consider that the peoples of the areas of Europe have been living there for millenia, adapting to the foods available, and, I venture to guess, metabolize that food better than other populations.

Like fats and grease and junk food has a bigger effect on Oriental people (cholesterol was hardly known in the orient before long ago...). Also, populations in Africa are just not used to certain fiber, etc.

The United States (given that 99% of the population is not indigenous) doesnt really have a given food culture. It just adapts to certain imports from the many populations that live within its borders... we got frankfuters from the German immigrants, pasta and pizza from the I-talians, potatos from a bit all over, etc...
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post #6 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by Scott
One flaw in your thinking is that everything else is equal. Gentically the US is not equal to France.

The difference between the french way of eating and the american way is that many french people eat basically the same way as 50 years ago. The american way has changed dramatically. The worst image of diet is drinking beer, and eating pop corn in front of TV.
The genetical differences (not that high) are less importants than the habits.
post #7 of 78
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by ZO
shooting off the top of my head....

Most valid points you make ZO however even the US for many years had long periods of low obesity. It is only in the last 20 or so years things have really exploded.

I attribute a lot of this to corn syrup sweetened sodas. And today you see large portion sized sodas. Look at "Big gulp" soda sizes at 7 Eleven stores. Cokes going from 8 oz bottles years ago to 12 oz cans to 16 oz plastic bottles.

We see an evolution of bad habits sneaking into the american diet. First is corn syrup then portion size explosion. Not good and this is just soda here but one of the factors.

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post #8 of 78
Sorry, but Germans in general (in the big cities, anyway) are every bit as fat as Americans. So are Italians in many regions.
post #9 of 78
All true but scientifically you have to control for those things. The US population is from Europe, Eastern Europe, South America, Africa, Asia ... where as France is mostly French and North African.


Scientific American had an article somewhat on this topic. It had very good examples of genetically similar groups in the US and Mexico that showed great differences in body weight. Rather than focus on diet the rest of the article focused on genes and the metabolism related to obesity. Rather disappointing.
post #10 of 78
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by tonton
Sorry, but Germans in general (in the big cities, anyway) are every bit as fat as Americans. So are Italians in many regions.

You will notice I was comparing the French with Americans.

Not the Germans with Americans or the Italians with the Americans.

Just to be clear,

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post #11 of 78
Quote:
The worst image of diet is drinking beer, and eating pop corn in front of TV.

Damn you, Powerdoc. Damn you to hell.
post #12 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by murbot
Damn you, Powerdoc. Damn you to hell.

Well, but you practice so much exercice, Murbot, so much horizontal exercices ....
post #13 of 78
I saw the results of a survey about a year ago that revealed that the size of the portion - not the quality or flavour of the food - was the number one factor a large proportion of Americans (it was over 50%) took into consideration in ordering restaurant meals. By contrast, the quality of the food was far and away the primary factor in Europe (actually, I believe it was France that they used as a comparison for this study). Overall, I think that Europeans eat better than we do in North America.
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post #14 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by tonton
Sorry, but Germans in general (in the big cities, anyway) are every bit as fat as Americans. So are Italians in many regions.

I am not sure that this is accurate, statistically. I am not absolutely sure that it is not accurate either, but it is contrary to what I have observed (Germany only - I have never been to Italy) and what I understood to be the case. I'll try to see if stats are available online.
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post #15 of 78
I can believe that. I cut out fries at lunch and some soda from my diet (diet meaning "normal food eating pattern"), and I lost 10 pounds in about 3 months, very gradually. For many if not most people, the weight usually comes from extra calories from those ridiculous portions TGI Tuesday Benni-han's places serve -- bread to start, 32 oz. sodas, onions and fries, etc.

Limiting portions is the first thing to do if you want to lose weight. Just make sure you don't cut out veggies and vitamins when you do it (which are usually low calorie anyway).
post #16 of 78
A comprehensive obesity rate comparison between countries is available in this document (scroll to Chart 6 on page 4). Germany ranks far below the U.S. Interestingly, the U.K. is the closest European country to the U.S. in terms of the obesity rate, although the U.K. rate is still far lower than that in the U.S.
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post #17 of 78
Warning of the surgeon general : eating too much freedoom fries, will led you to obesity
post #18 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by tonton
Sorry, but Germans in general (in the big cities, anyway) are every bit as fat as Americans. So are Italians in many regions.

That is so far from true its amazing!!!! . . . when was the last time you were in the States.

There are a few older men and women in European environments that become rotund with age

but

whenever I get back from Europe I am STUNNED . . . . even today I am stunned after having been here for a long stint (4 years straight )

Americans are obese! Outside of Northern California its as if when you get to the age of 27+ you are expected to BLIMP! . . . it is unbelievable!

and guess what Scott . . . the French are genetically made up of Gauls, Germanic tribes (Franck, Visigoths, etc), Romans and Some Saxon's and Danes as well . . besides the more recent immigrant influxes . . .Europe is not Iceland as far as genetic diversity (sure it isn't the US . ..)


It isn't just Europe that has a ratio of obesity far less than the US . . . the other countries mentioned, where immagrants come from, also have much thinner people:

Main reasons:
Walking (much walking in countries that were not designed around cars! In Europe there are Public Spaces organized around the daily ritual of walking, and all ages do it, from teh most stylish hipster to the older folks . . . old city centers)
Diet (can you say McFood!)
Sedentary Lifestyle and no time for the average working stiff to excerrcise . . . also, not as much a a community sport spirit . .
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post #19 of 78
http://www.getupmove.com/

Get off your fat ass if you're going to be eating American sized portions.
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post #20 of 78
Since I've lost 42 pounds in the last 17 weeks because I finally bit the bullet and ate less and exercised more, I can clearly tell you that it is the portion size here that is the problem. If you eat more than you burn you gain weight. If you drink a 32 ounce soda you are taking in a ridiculous amount of calories...and people dining in tend to get at least a refill or two. A couple days ago I went with my family to Hometown Buffet. I had about a tablespoon of macaroni because I hadn't had it in such a long time but I restrained myself to nothing more than that and I had 2 small chicken breasts where I only sliced off the meat that was easy to get to and avoiding the skin like the plague. I was stuffed after that and I basically took in roughly 350 - 400 calories. I saw the rest of my family going back for seconds and thirds. I couldn't believe the volume of food they were eating. Hell, that whole Buffet looked like an obesity convention.

 

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post #21 of 78
Yea, just by cutting out simple stuff (soda and candy) I lost 13-15 pounds in about a month and a half last year. Seeing all of these fat people around me is really freaking disturbing... but being thin is a bouns!

As for that getupmove site, that's cool stuff. DDR is an awesome game, no wonder why all my friends are freakishly thin...
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post #22 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by pfflam

Main reasons:
Walking (much walking in countries that were not designed around cars! In Europe there are Public Spaces organized around the daily ritual of walking, and all ages do it, from teh most stylish hipster to the older folks . . . old city centers)
Diet (can you say McFood!)
Sedentary Lifestyle and no time for the average working stiff to excerrcise . . . also, not as much a a community sport spirit . .

Bingo! And bingo again Eugene. You know that stuff doctors say about 20 - 30 minutes of exercise a day? Total and utter CRAP. They just say that because they can't face the truth themselves about how much exercise is really required to maintain a normal weight. One hour absolute minimum I'd guess is more like it but 2 hours a day is probably an even safer bet. And none of this nancying about - hard, slog exercise that's what you've got to do. Do that and I can just about guarantee you'll not only lose weight, you won't want to put crap food in your body.

I see a lot of overweight kids in my business and that really bothers me. Except where there is a real health issue (which is rare), kids just should not be obese/overweight. But you can't advise them or their parents to do something about it because then little Mary-Jane might become anorexic. But of course, the great irony is far more kids are obese than ever develop any form of anorexia.
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post #23 of 78
Thread Starter 
I have lost 15 pounds since January by eating what I would say resembles a "French" diet. The food is better, I have more energy and I do not miss the old ways.

BTW, congrats BR I am proud of you and I know what you mean about watching others stuff themselves. It is just insane.

Fellows
May the peace of the Lord be with you always

Share your smile, Have respect for others, and be loving to all peoples

Paul in Athens: Acts 17 : 16-34
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post #24 of 78
I'm sure you'll all be delighted to know that I have a giant theory about this:

I blame it on our puritan forbears.

See, somewhere in our national consciousness we continue to hold the notion that pleasure is the devil's work. That includes all pleasures of the senses, including food, sex, and leisure. The body is the site of sin, and "giving in" to its wants is to displease God.

So we deny ourselves any sense of "luxurating" in our body.

What happens? What should have been invited in and celebrated comes back as addiction, compulsion, and joyless excess.

So: we lack a sense of eroticism and sensuality in everyday life, but are beset by sex as guilt ridden perversity. We sexualize our children, objectify our bodies, and turn sex into a marketing tool that only creates frustration and anxiety.

We are suspicious of taking our time ("idle hands" you know), so we "professionalize" leisure time, turing it into "extreme sports", vacations that try to pack a year's worth of "fun" into a week, and reasons to buy all the latest "gear" that ostensibly maximizes the efficiency of play.

And we won't eat (and won't enjoy) the food that could really sustain us, lingering over meals with friends or family, savoring the flavors, reveling in the preperation, so we go out and eat hug amounts of fat, salt, and sugar.

Our poor bodies are crying out for care and love, but because we can't or won't give them what they need, we are driven to a frenzy of "junk" love, stuff that doesn't really satisfy, setting up a viscous circle of hunger that never gets fed.

I would call that the "American paradox". Endless want in sea of plenty.
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post #25 of 78
[Edited by Fellowship]

Let's try to be polite. I know it is a thin line between what is cosidered rude and what is polite discussion.
post #26 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by Ganondorf
Edited out by Fellowship

That just isn't true. Why would you say a thing like that?
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post #27 of 78
Hmm, I don't know, maybe the American Obesity Association?

http://www.obesity.org/subs/fastfact...rity_Pop.shtml

Quote:
Overweight and obesity in the U.S. occur at higher rates in racial / ethnic minority populations such as African American and Hispanic Americans, compared with White Americans.

Ah, I see my statement of the facts have been censored. How nice.
post #28 of 78
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post #29 of 78
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by Ganondorf
Hmm, I don't know, maybe the American Obesity Association?

http://www.obesity.org/subs/fastfact...rity_Pop.shtml



Ah, I see my statement of the facts have been censored. How nice.

You are of course allowed to state you opinion and facts but let's be careful how it is done.

Nothing personal.

Fellows
May the peace of the Lord be with you always

Share your smile, Have respect for others, and be loving to all peoples

Paul in Athens: Acts 17 : 16-34
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post #30 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by Ganondorf
Hmm, I don't know, maybe the American Obesity Association?

http://www.obesity.org/subs/fastfact...rity_Pop.shtml

What your link shows is that black and hispanics have a somewhat higher (10% or less) incidence of obesity within their population.

That isn't even remotely close to describing obesity in America as being a mostly black or hispanic thing.
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post #31 of 78
Perhaps my wording was misleading.

Still, the fact remains that hispanics and blacks are more overweight than White Americans. Whether this is genetic, or cultural, it certainly begins to point toward an explanation.
post #32 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by addabox
What your link shows is that black and hispanics have a somewhat higher (10% or less) incidence of obesity within their population.

That isn't even remotely close to describing obesity in America as being a mostly black or hispanic thing.

Yes and don't forget the correlation with the social status :

Quote:
Socioeconomic Status (SES)

Overweight affects African American women and men across all SES levels.

Minority women with low income appear to have the greatest likelihood of being overweight.

Among Mexican American women, age 20 to 74, the rate of overweight is about 13 percent higher for women living below the poverty line versus above the poverty line.
post #33 of 78
Without having anything to support this claim, I believe that it is a combination of shitty fast food (McDonalds / Burger King / KFC type stuff), poverty, and lack of nutritional education: Inexpensive, low-quality food (replete with grease, salt, starch, fats and processed sugars) being consumed in over-large portions primarily by people at the lower end of the economic scale. All the cola definitely doesn't help.

The fact that so many Americans live in suburbia, where the only way to get around is by car, may also be a factor. If you drive everywhere, how are you ever going to work off the breakfast cereal, morning danish, lunchtime Whopper and fries and evening Dominos with cheasy bread followed by Ben & Jerry's in front of the TV?

The particular disparity with France could also be attributable to French cultural emphasis on good quality food.

Edit: A lot of posts came in while I was writing this, so most of what I've said is essentially redundant. I think the skewing of obesity stats towards black / Hispanic definitely has a lot to do with income. I see waaaaayyy more people filling the fast food places in my neighborhood in downtown Brooklyn than I do near my office on Park Avenue.
post #34 of 78
A few things.
Young European here, been to the States twice.
My general impression is that people all over Europe are more or less equal (on average) in body weight, and a LOT less likely to be overweight than Americans.
The best (and worst) example of this are children. Over here when a kid (2-12yrs) is somewhat chubby it is an exception and a rarity. In the US it seems the standard.
Also, i'm amazed how Americans focus on calories and carbs and dieting and excercising, we talk about (some of) these things over here, but not as often. Food is considered a pleasure and a natural thing over here, in the US it's often considered a problem or a necessity.
What to do about it? Well, i guess we are simply more traditional over here. 3 meals a day, fruit inbetween, one meal with meat, vegetables and pasta or patatoes or rice. Not too much television. Transportation by bike or by foot.
A few anecdotes.
When i visited the states a few months ago i notices the 'low carbs' notation on all things, i didn't know what it was so i asked (in dutch they are called 'koolhydraten'), and to my surprise: over here they advertise foods that are high on carbs (mueslix, pasta, ...) as healty bcause they digest easily and provide enough energy to last 'till the next meal.
Another thing: the lack of fresh food and the abundance of 'light' food. I mean, normally food is healty as it is, and in a balanced diet you don't need 'light' foods. What you probably do need is fresh food.
Over here two of the three meals are traditionally bread-meals, but in the US it's almost impossible to get a 'real' bread (one u get from the bakery, preferrably a multi-cereal bread, not wrapped in plastic, not kept in the fridge, not necessary to toast and that gets bad in 2 or 3 days).
Than you have soda's (why not water, or milk, or orange juice), snacks (of course, if u don't have decent meals), ...
Finally you have the fact that life in the US is quite a bit faster (or at least that's how it's perceived) than over here, probably encouraging fast food intake, high sugar consumption, ...

Oh, one more thing, we drink (much) more alcohol over here. Beer or wine in stead of coke. Not sure if that is a healthy thing, but it makes the meals more pleasant :-)

ps: for those who travelled, isn't it amazing how coca cola tastes different in different places. I could barely drink the US coke on my visit there.
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post #35 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by crawlingparanoia
The problem is we're overfed but undernourished.

Instead of my lengthy, unconsistent and lousy-english reply, i should've simply reffered to the above article.
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post #36 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by SpcMs
Instead of my lengthy, unconsistent and lousy-english reply, i should've simply reffered to the above article.

No at all, I think your post was a very useful perspective. Particularly the stuff about carbs. I think we have really gone off the rails in re "low carb" mania.
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post #37 of 78
From the American Public Health Administration:

Quote:
Overview

While overweight and obesity has reached epidemic proportion for all Americans, it is most prevalent in minorities. Researchers are not completely sure why blacks, Hispanics and American Indians and Alaska Natives gain weight at faster rates than whites but many believe that it is a combination of genetics, environment, culture and socioeconomic factors. Many obesity-related diseases, including diabetes, hypertension, cancer and heart disease, have higher rates among various members of racial and ethnic minorities compared with whites.


Did You Know

Black women become obese twice as fast as white women.

Hispanic men become obese 2.5 times faster than white men; however black men do not surpass white men in weight until after the age of 28, when they become obese 2.2 times faster than white men.

Sixty-nine percent of black women are overweight or obese, compared with 58 percent of black men.

Mexican-American boys tend to have a higher prevalence of overweight than black or white boys.

According to a report in the Annals of Epidemiology, Hispanic women who gain 30 pounds or more after age 18 appear to double their risk of getting breast cancer.

Among American Indians and Alaska Natives ages 45-74, 25.9 percent of men and 31.3 percent of women are overweight.

There is no mention specifically of income disparities being the cause of these distortions, so I think to toss the entire distortion on income disparities is a bit naive.

An interesting possible series of propositions I just formulated in my head is that poor people, in general, are obese because they are lazy. Inactivity is a major cause of obesity. Which also explains why they are poor. In that case, I could deduce that minorities in America are lazy.

Just a thought.
post #38 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by addabox
No at all, I think your post was a very useful

Well thank you, Ma'am
It's Better To Be Hated For What You Are Than To Be Loved For What You Are Not
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It's Better To Be Hated For What You Are Than To Be Loved For What You Are Not
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post #39 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by Ganondorf
From the American Public Health Administration:



There is no mention of income disparities being the cause of these distortions.

An interesting possible series of propositions I just formulated in my head is that poor people, in general, are obese because they are lazy. Inactivity is a major cause of obesity. Which also explains why they are poor. In that case, I could deduce that minorities in America are lazy.

Just a thought.

It certainly is a thought, one that should earn you at least a temporary suspension.
They spoke of the sayings and doings of their commander, the grand duke, and told stories of his kindness and irascibility.
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They spoke of the sayings and doings of their commander, the grand duke, and told stories of his kindness and irascibility.
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post #40 of 78
Quote:
Originally posted by addabox
It certainly is a thought, one that should earn you at least a temporary suspension.

If that is the case, I assure you I will be glad to leave.

If not, I feel sorry for your close-minded knee-jerk reaction to me expressing myself in a peaceful, rational manner. And I am quite insulted by your assertion.
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