La Vie en France #15: Some Thoughts on Diet and Exercise from Across the Pond

The large amount of battlefield remains that can still be seen is one feature that makes the Meuse-Argonne and Verdun battlefields special relative to more manicured battlefields such as the Somme, Ypres and Normandy.  However, in order to take advantage of that fact visitors: 1) need to know where those locations are and 2) need to be in good physical health to explore them.  Point 1, above, can be solved through research and contacts.  Point 2, above, can only be solved through exercise and preparation.


The Webmaster has lived and traveled extensively in France and Germany since 1986, and he has been observing the habits of Europeans and Americans over that time period.  In general, the Webmaster has made the observations outlined below.


  • When comparing like-for-like age and sex, Europeans can generally outlast Americans “in the field.”  The Webmaster attributes this to the fact that the Europeans are more athletic and physically active than their American counterparts.  When visiting a Swedish friend in London they walked 15 minutes (each way) to the grocery store.  In a June 2017 one-day outing with members of Les Amis de Vauquois the group hiked 10km (6 miles) over Hill 263 in the Argonne Forest and it explored numerous underground tunnel complexes.  The age group ranged from the late 20s to late 60s.  American readers, when is the last time you hiked that far?



Members of the Les Amis de Vauquois Study Outing at Lunch Break


  • Food portions in the grocery store are generally significantly smaller in Europe than in the U.S.–especially for snack foods.  The Webmaster does not know whether this is regulated or whether it is the result of market research, storage space, shopping habits, etc.  Regardless of reason, the outcome is the same:  While Europeans might eat large multi-course dinners, their overall caloric intake, especially through junk foods and snacking, tends to be lower than that for Americans.  The photo below shows standard snack food sizes in Europe compared to the brownie tray in the bakery section or a one pound (500 gram) bag of Oreo cookies in an American supermarket.


Diet and Exercise Post 1

From R to L: Lu “Petite Ecolier” cookies–12 cookies in box. Chips about 5-6 ounces. Brownies in an 8″ tray +/-. Coke is a 15 pack of 12 ounce cans; not the typical 2 12 packs for $X.


  • Socially, Americans love to show pictures of their meals on Facebook.  Europeans generally don’t do this; even when on vacation.  It is difficult to say whether this reflect Americans greater obsession with food and dining, or whether it reflects the social side of eating.  However, Americans often make such posts when eating out only with their immediate family.  Therefore, the Webmaster would argue that it reflects the former and not the latter.  It could also reflect the fact that European families tend to eat out less frequently than their American counterparts.  But one also rarely sees photos of Europeans entertaining friends in their home posted on Facebook.


The implication of these observations is that Americans tend to be heavier and in poorer health when comparing like for like across age and sex; and this significantly limits Americans’ access to getting out into the field in the Meuse-Argonne!  In general the Webmaster would encourage Americans preparing to visit the battlefields in France to go out and get more exercise.  There is a lot to be seen outside of a museum in the Meuse-Argonne and it is a pity to have to limit one’s activity due to physical health and weight.