A Fat Nation
America's `supersize' diet is fattier and sweeter--and deadlier
Where do we go from here? There are many proposals on the table, from lawsuits to junk-food taxes, school-based efforts to low-cost "fast health food" chains. Two weeks ago, Sens. Bill Frist and Jeff Bingaman introduced the "Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act" or "IMPACT." The bill would provide about $258 million in grants to train physicians in obesity treatment, fund nutrition education, pay for bike and walking paths in communities, and offer tax incentives to businesses that provide workplace exercise facilities and health-food options for employees.
Making moves. It may be that healthful eating and physical activity can be marketed with the same tools used to sell burgers and fries. Since fewer than 10 percent of schools now offer daily physical education, last month the CDC began a $190 million multimedia campaign--called VERB--to get kids moving. Similarly, Margo Wootan, at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Bill Reger, a medical professor at West Virginia University, waged a "1% or Less" campaign to persuade people to use low-fat milk. After eight weeks of paid advertising and a PR blitz, as many as 38 percent of high-fat drinkers in four West Virginia communities switched to low-fat milk. The campaign cost a little more than the equivalent of five coronary bypass operations, yet it reduced dietary saturated fat--and heart risk--for an estimated 30,540 people. Reger is developing a "Five a Day" antiobesity campaign emphasizing fruits and vegetables.
To make the public more calorie-conscious when dining out, health advocates want chain and fast-food restaurants to list the calorie content of their meals prominently on menus and food wrappers. "It wouldn't cost anything," says Michael Jacobson, director of CSPI, who first proposed this idea, "but it could have a major effect on food choices."
These and other obesity-prevention ideas could slim our collective paunch. But for some people, like Judy Young, the benefits won't come soon enough. "I've been on the liquid diet, fen-phen, Redux. I tried Atkins and the Zone," she says. Nothing lasted. This fall, Young plans to undergo gastric bypass surgery, a procedure in which the stomach is sectioned off and a small pouch is created, reducing the amount of food one can eat. Gastric bypass is only recommended for people who are 100 pounds or more overweight. Weight loss is rapid, but high rates of complications are associated with the surgery, and as many as 2 in 100 patients die from it.
Young knows these risks. She says she has weighed them again and again. "If I don't do it," she says, "I don't think I will live to see Katie grow up."
1957 1 oz. 210 calories
Today 6 oz. 618 calories
Movie theater popcorn
1957 3 cups 170 calories
Today 16 cups 900 calories
1990 2.1 oz. 270 calories
Today 5 oz. 680 calories
1894 6.5 oz. 79 calories
Today 20 oz. 250 calories
With Mary Brophy Marcus