Americans Eating Healthier and Exercising, Yeah Right

Discussion
Aug 03, 2006
George Anderson

By George Anderson


For those keeping score:


  • Medical professionals keep telling us that, as a nation, we’re fat. Two-thirds of Americans are said to be overweight or obese.

  • Certain consumer advocacy groups say food manufacturers and restaurants serve unhealthy foods designed to keep Americans coming back for more while piling on the pounds.

  • Food manufacturers, restaurants and their advocacy groups say the industry is improving product formulations and offering healthier items. They also rightfully point out consumers have the ability to eat smaller portions and that exercise needs to involve more than walking from the couch to the refrigerator and back.

  • Consumers, more than 75 percent of them, it turns out, say their eating habits are healthy and 40 percent of people classified as obese say they do vigorous exercise at least three times a week.

The question we’re left with is, “If everyone is eating right and exercising, than why are we so, well, blubbery?”


Dr. David Schutt of Thomson Medstat, the Michigan-based health-care research firm that conducted a phone survey of 11,000 people regarding their eating and exercise habits, told The Associated Press, “There is, perhaps, some denial going on. Or there is a lack of understanding of what does it mean to be eating healthy, and what is vigorous exercise.” (Memo to Dr. Schutt, “You think?”)


Individuals involved in the study were classified by body-mass index (BMI). Using this calculation, 3,100 of the people in the survey were classified as obese or morbidly obese; 4,200 were overweight; 3,800 were normal weight and 200 were underweight..


The biggest issue with the study, according to Dr. Jeffrey Koplan of Emory University, is that it touches on the types of foods eaten but not the quantities consumed.


For example, Medstat found 28 percent of obese people have a snack two or more times a day, which is only slightly more than normal weight people, 24 percent of whom report doing the same thing. What is not determined, according to Dr. Koplan, is how much is actually eaten while snacking.


Still, said Dr. Schutt, when you look at the habits of overweight and normal weight people such as snacking, meals away from home, exercise, reading food labels, etc., “The numbers aren’t wildly different.”


One area where a significant difference did pop up was in whether people ate everything on their plate when going out to a restaurant. About 41 percent of obese people said they always did, compared to 31 percent of normal weight individuals.


Medstat said its survey had a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.


Discussion Question: How does the food manufacturing, foodservice and retailing community deal with obesity and related issues in society when such a
large number of consumers are seemingly in denial about their own weight issues, eating and exercise habits?

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15 Comments on "Americans Eating Healthier and Exercising, Yeah Right"


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M. Jericho Banks PhD
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M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 7 months ago

The folks who are most vocal about the responsibility of food providers to “deal with” obesity are people outside those industries. It’s always easiest to point fingers and blame others. Certainly, these nattering nabobs of negativism have shamed the food industry to make many, many positive changes to satisfy their yammering, but where are the expected improvements in the rate of obesity? Shades of Lady Hillary cautioning everyone to check their tire pressures and coast to stops to save gasoline. Thanks, Hillary.

Eat less, drive less. It’s axiomatic. We’re just not very good at moderation. Perhaps we need another Great Depression to teach us a needed lesson.

Rick Moss
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Sorry, Mark. I’m going to have to differ on your point about ignorance not being the problem. The misinformation and misconceptions out there are epidemic. People eat butter instead of margarine because they’ve read (who knows where?) that margarine contains bad, bad chemicals. But once they’ve determined butter is the better choice, they slather it on liberally. Mothers understand that fruit juice is better than soda, and then encourage sedentary kids to chug it by the gallon.

Efforts by manufacturers to improve the healthfulness of foods is encouraging, but some VERY simple, sensible advice on moderating intake – perhaps on labeling and in-store signage – might have a greater impact overall.

James McDowell
Guest
James McDowell
14 years 7 months ago
Behavior that is rewarded tends to increase, behavior that is punished tends to decrease. The solution to the obesity problem is to quit rewarding the bad behavior that creates obesity, that is, poor eating habits and lack of exercise. With our modern technology, we should be able to determine an “ideal weight” for every American. Give each person some wiggle room (say 5 or 10%), and if their weight exceeds those parameters — start penalizing them for it. Higher health care premiums for those who buy health care insurance and reduction of services for those who let the taxpayer pay for their healthcare. Many will say that is Draconian, but what is at stake is far more important. If this nation continues to subsidize the cost of people’s poor health habits, we will become bankrupt. It is ironic that this nation has flirted with most (if not all) of the seven deadly sins and it could be gluttony that brings about our downfall. The trial lawyers are just waiting to take the strategy they used… Read more »
Laura Broderick
Guest
Laura Broderick
14 years 7 months ago
All the comments I have read here are credible. Moderation is the key. But there are those of us who can’t control ourselves enough to moderate our food intake. Some people can’t drink alcohol due to addiction and the potential they will abuse it. It’s the same with chocolate…. I know can’t be trusted; it’s better for me to swear it off completely than to try and moderate it. Before the government outlawed narcotics people used cocaine to ease there aches and pains, cold symptoms, depression. They can’t outlaw food altogether so it is natural that people will comfort themselves somehow. However, addiction whether to food, drink, tobacco or drugs doesn’t excuse it away. If a person wants or needs to make a change to be healthy it is up to them to take the steps to do so. The government shouldn’t allow harmful ingredients to be added to our food, and changing that will require a great deal of education because ignorance is bliss. We are a fortunate nation to have too much to… Read more »
John Lansdale
Guest
John Lansdale
14 years 7 months ago
Six years ago I bought a Honda Insight. If I keep saving money on gas at the same rate I have since then, by the time I junk it it will have been free. Great performance, comfort and fun too. But reading the media, I realized, no one would have believed it. That’s when I discovered PR. Until then I knew people bought the news and advice, but I didn’t understand. After a period of outrage I started thinking. The secret to success is to recognize PR. To separate it from reality. Know when it hurts you and when it helps. I’ve been making money in the stock market doing this doing this and most recently have turned the principle to weight loss. I’ve always been overweight, 218 lbs a couple of months ago and I’m not that tall. Cholesterol got up to 250. I’ve tried all kind of diets and exercise programs in the past. Lost 20 lbs once on Weight Watchers, but gained it all back in a few years. As an ex-smoker… Read more »
Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Guns don’t kill. People do.
Drugs don’t kill. People do.
Food doesn’t kill. People do.

Dan Nelson
Guest
Dan Nelson
14 years 7 months ago

Every person has a choice of what they buy and what they eat each day. Those same people have a choice of how much (or little) exercise they choose to do each day as well. Sure, you can eat the wrong types of things through lack of awareness to ingredients, but the simple fact of obesity is eating more calories than you burn off through activity.

Restaurants and food producers are going to sell what people want to buy because they are in business to drive sales and earn higher profits, whether they are a mom and pop diner or a corporate food giant.

Health care education is part of the solution, as is improved ingredient labeling and efforts by the food industry to improve consumer understanding through nutritional messages which are all moving in the right direction. But the ultimate decision on a healthful lifestyle resides with the consumer who makes the choice of what they eat, how much and how often, and how and how much they exercise.

Karin Miller
Guest
Karin Miller
14 years 7 months ago
I think that there is a lot of indifference, but I would throw confusion and misleading information in the mix in addition to ignorance. There is no straight scoop on what healthy eating is. The FDA can’t even decide on what the food pyramid should look like and there are many experts and “healthy” diets that provide opposing ideas. Aside from broccoli and green beans (raw or steamed), I would be hard pressed to name another food that everyone agrees should be part of a healthy weight loss plan! Butter/margarine is a great example. The late Dr. Robert Atkins, who informed us of the dangers of trans fats long before they were called trans fats, said it was OK to eat butter, and many who followed his advice HAVE improved their stats relative to their heart health. Another cardiologist that I am familiar with suggests a chem-spread called Benecol which says it has “no trans fats” but lists a partially hydrogenated oil as one of its major ingredients because the manufacturer can claim zero grams… Read more »
Greg Coghill
Guest
Greg Coghill
14 years 7 months ago

How does the food manufacturing, foodservice and retailing community deal with obesity and related issues in society? They capitalize on it. I must say that I get frustrated thinking about how the partially-hydrogenated [oils] that food manufacturers are putting in food these days that is consumed by low income families, because it will ultimately be a burden on American tax-payers when these consumers require medical attention for heart attacks and other medical issues related to the food they eat. Frustrating. Externalities at their best.

Ben Ball
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

History would suggest that it is impossible to “legislate” a)intelligence, b)logic, and c)personal responsibility. It just ain’t gonna happen. Short of famine, our “obesity problem” will not go away. We can tax it. We can make it illegal. But we may as well accept that this is part on the natural process of “self-selection.”

E Allen
Guest
E Allen
14 years 7 months ago
The basic problem today concerns lifestyles. That is to say that people today differ greatly from those 60 years ago where Americans were more agricultural and needed the extra calories to work in the fields and/or walk to work. Americans of yesterday didn’t have it so easy, i.e., wake up, take a shower, dress, eat, and jump into the car to drive an average 1 hour (40+ miles) to work, and at work – sit or stand performing a job for over 6 hours, then jump back in the car and drive the same distance/time home. Americans of yesterday had to do a lot more. Cars at one point were a luxury item that only the rich could afford, but today, they are a necessary evil of our society. With our “on the go” ways of today, it is a wonder that more people aren’t overweight. We DO NOT HAVE enough TIME in the day to prepare foods for meals that were doing only 30 years ago. Americans NEED to SLOW DOWN and get back… Read more »
Mike Blackburn
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

“Restaurants and food producers are going to sell what people want to buy because they are in business to drive sales and earn higher profits, whether they are a mom and pop diner or a corporate food giant.”

I always cringe whenever I read comments like these. So, why not legalize crack? It’s got great demand and super margins!!

It’s so easy to fall back on that old (simplistic, incomplete, irresponsible…) adage. It explains away any guilt.

Food manufacturers and distributors are gatekeepers in a way for the public when it comes to what they consume. They should have better knowledge than most as to what is good for you and what is bad (and they may be the only ones who really understand what exactly is being added to processed foods), and take responsible actions to protect their customers. No one is saying ban junk food, but be careful how we market it. A TV dinner, hot pocket…are quick substitutes, not nutritious alternatives.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
14 years 7 months ago

From a medical view, we’re just about to the point where the optimal diet can be designed for each individual. The problems with that are: 1. it costs money to have your ideal diet designed 2. once the diet is designed, people won’t stick to it because it doesn’t taste good and/or they crave other foods (generally unhealthy fat-laden foods).

So, the best manufacturers and retailers can do is to make the healthiest foods possible, that taste good, and are as inexpensive as they can offer it. Sure doesn’t sound like any of this is going to happen soon, but progress happens one step at a time.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Food manufacturers and retailers are trying to formulate great-tasting, healthier concoctions. America’s weight problem doesn’t stem from ignorance. Eating habits are very hard to change. Compare alcoholism to obesity: you can stop drinking but it’s hard to change how you eat since you must eat several times a day, regardless.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

In an article of my favorite magazine, Fast Company, the discussion and research on the subject of “Habit Change,” research said that even though a person may have a life threatening disease, and be advised by a doctor to change their habits or risk worse complications, the percentage of people who would actually change their habits was less than 10%. Eating habits, obesity, or just a few pounds overweight, it is incredibly difficult for people to change their habits, even thought they know it is good for them (me included).

I was pleased to see an initiative announced recently by Disney and Kroger, where a new line of healthy foods were to be developed by the two companies, and an area in the stores would carry these products. Portion control, reduced sugars, natural ingredients are all part of the strategy for the products in educating children, and re-educating their parents about food choices. Bravo!

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