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The Super-Sizing of America

posted on December 5, 2003

A government task force is recommending that health care workers screen all adults for weight problems, as well as advocate intensive counseling for those patients who are obese. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says behavioral therapy and high-intensity counseling can yield "modest, sustained weight loss" in obese people.

Even so, tasks force studies suggest such therapy may result in weight loss of no more than six to 11 pounds in a year.

The struggle to get one's weight down is played out millions of times each day across America. In response, and backed by a slew of reports on the nation's expanding girth, the federal government has declared war on obesity. John Nichols reports.


The Super-Sizing of America

According to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, in Atlanta, 60% of the U.S. adult population is overweight... and nearly 40 million of those people are considered obese.

The CDC relies on a mathematic equation to make the distinction between being overweight and being obese. Known as the "Body Mass Index" or BMI, the expression measures an individual's weight in relation to height. For adults, the formula is weight in pounds divided by height in inches squared, times 703. Individuals with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight, while individuals with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese.

Over the past 20 years, the rate of obesity in the United States has risen dramatically. Currently, 20 states have obesity prevalence rates of 15-19 percent; 29 states have rates of 20-24 percent; and one state, Mississippi, reports more than 25 percent of its adult population is obese.

Clearly, America is getting fatter... and as America balloons, so do obesity-related health costs...

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration issued a new labeling rule to warn consumers about trans-fats. Like saturated fats they increase cholesterol and clog arteries. Slated to take effect in 2006, it is the first change in the federally mandated food labels since they were adopted in 1993.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thomson: "We need to get America focused on preventing disease by eating less and exercising more. Today's initiative will not prevent heart disease alone but it will empower Americans with more information so that they will be able to make the smart decisions about what they eat."

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thomson calls obesity, "the fastest growing disease in America." With obesity rates reaching epidemic proportions policy makers are attacking a serious threat to America's physical and economic health.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thomson: "Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in America. In 2002 heart disease had a negative economic impact of $214 billion dollars, that's $214 billion dollars including $115 billion dollars in direct medical costs. Bad fats like trans-fats and saturated fats contribute heavily to obesity as well."

Nearly everyone is in agreement that America's waistline is bulging, and as concerns over the costs of obesity rise, the junk food giants are in danger of becoming the next "Big Tobacco" for trial lawyers.

McDonalds -- which test marketed a Happy Meal this summer with an option to replace French fries with a bag of fruit -- faces pending lawsuits alleging the company acted negligently in selling foods high in cholesterol, fat, salt and sugar.

But critics of the litigation claim the fast food industry, in which consumers spend more than $100 billion annually, is being unfairly blamed for the "super sizing" of America.

Last month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a report entitled "Burger, Fries and Lawyers: The Beef Behind Obesity Lawsuits." Todd Buchholz, an expert on economic trends conducted the research.

Todd Buchholz: "Fast food is under attack by trial lawyers. Well, of course, having settled the 250 odd billion dollar, million dollar tobacco lawsuit, fast food is seen as having deep pockets, they tend to be franchises, it's much more difficult to sue an independent sit down restaurant but there is little evidence that fast food is actually the cause of obesity.

For Market to Market, I'm John Nichols.


Tags: exercise fitness food heart news obesity