In 2013, the World Health Organisation published statistics regarding obesity throughout Europe – with the Czech Republic being named as the most obese country in the continent. It is notorious that beer and high-fat foods are intrinsically linked to Czech culture. Due to the overall reduction of physical activity and the current obesogenic food environment, the country’s weight problem has sky-rocketed. The lethal cocktail of tantalising cuisine and craft beer is a recipe for disaster. With average beer consumption in the Czech Republic sitting at 142.4 litres per year, it is no surprise that Czechs lead the way in global alcohol figures. There has been an overall increase in obesity internationally, however the calorific culture in the capital has been cited as a contributing factor to this epidemic.
Obesity and related illnesses such as diabetes and heart failure are currently Europe’s second cause of premature death (with smoking being number one). What we eat and drink has a direct correlation with weight and overall health. Food available in the Czech capital – Prague – is not typically synonymous with vitality and well-being. Traditional Czech cuisine is high calorie, carb-laden and rife with hearty meat dishes. Although the occasional holiday splurge is inevitable, it is the local scales paying the price. Tourists to the capital arrive in pursuit of the real Prague, leaving businesses with no other choice but to capitalise on a market of excess. From the iconic Trdelniks to the deep-fried cheese and pork dumplings, visitors to the historic city are encouraged to get a ‘real taste of Prague’- even if it is at the expense of their own waistline. In addition to this already nutrient deficient diet, the devouring of beer is another pivotal aspect to the average meal in Prague. Czech beers’ popularity with foreign punters is encapsulated by the rise in their sales to over £580 million in 2016. This would be even higher if alcohol was not so affordable for tourists in comparison to Western Europe. Whether it is the concentration of tourists or the historically heavy drinking Czechs, alcohol consumption in the capital is extremely high.
The question of whether the culture of excess has been driven by travellers or local consumers is hard to determine. In a city where there are more tourists than native inhabitants, restaurants must adapt in order keep their doors open. For local restaurants, this means having to exploit traditional Czech cuisine – the antithesis of the millennial-fuelled wholesome existence. Although healthy food is scarce when compared to that of a greasy variety, both diet and wallet friendly options do exist in Prague. With the new generation of health-conscious citizens and tourists alike, there are a handful of healthy restaurants popping up across the capital – promising both tasty and nutritious alternatives. Cafes such as the ‘Secret Garden’ and ‘Clear Mind’ offer patrons fresh vegetarian meal options, with a Czech twist. Nonetheless, these are particularly allusive amongst the hypnotic waft of delicious donut cones and beer in the hustle and bustle of Old Market Square. In order to fully understand the context of Prague’s health problems, it is essential to note the rarity of nourishing take-aways and the affordability of unhealthy cuisine.
We have established that Prague is not a mecca of health, but being able to offer at least one vegetarian option is a necessity in such a tourist-driven city. When dining at a traditional Czech restaurant there are dishes available for menu savvy diners. These include making sure you take advantage of the free wholemeal bread on offer at many restaurants, this paired with a filling local soup and salad constitutes a well-balanced meal.
From an outside perspective, it is clear to see how both alcohol and low nutrient, calorically dense food are contributing to the obesity epidemic in Prague. To ensure better well-being for both tourists and locals, small changes can make a big difference. Limiting alcohol consumption to the recommended amount and trying to include more fruit and vegetables can make a huge difference. All in all, holidays are a time to loosen up the reigns on diet, buy the beer and gobble the Trdelniks but make sure to add a cheeky green side-salad. Everything in moderation (including moderation).