How Do We Reverse The Fattening Of Our Nation?

The New York Daily News released excerpts from a study by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on May 08, 2012 on obesity. Currently one third of Americans are obese and the projections are that this number will rise to an alarming 42% by 2030. The toll on the health care costs will be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. If you think that Canadians are different – think again.

The NDP wants to change menus to reflect calories and sodium levels, per a report this week. Many will come out in favour of this change hoping that it will help combat the alarming obesity increase in our nation. But is it enough to reverse this alarming trend? Are we going far enough to reverse the diet related problems in our nation? Scientists are warning us that for the first time this new generation will not outlive their parents. Poor eating and inactivity levels are the cause.

Knowing what we are eating is important but only a portion of the population will pay attention. There will be many excuses – who cares it is my Birthday, Anniversary, Graduation, my first time in a restaurant in a month etc etc etc. Then there are those that are so detached from their own health management that they live in denial and are just eating mindlessly. This is the eating for sad, lonely, depressed, unhappy group.

We are missing another important piece of the diet and health management discussion – serving size reduction. It is no coincidence that the fattening of North America is in direct proportion to the serving size on our plates. How many times have you heard someone say in a restaurant – “I could not possibly eat all this” and then proceed to eat every morsel? “This is huge” “This is enough for a family of four”. You name it – we have heard every this is too much comment. The trouble is that we are a generation programmed to ‘clean our plates’.

What is the big deal you ask with extra calories on our plates? Well, the math is simple – an extra 10 calories a day could add up to an extra pound of weight gain per year. Therefore, if you are consuming an extra 100 calories from soft drinks and snacks every day you could pack on an additional 10 pounds per year. What is that common adage about students heading off to first year university – the “freshman 15”? It is not referring to the increase in their marks but rather their waistline!

The then and now charts for portion size currently when compared to the 1950’s is alarming. French fries have gone from 2.4 oz to 7.1 oz; Soft drinks 7.0 oz to anywhere from 12 to 64 oz depending on if you ‘Upsize’ your order; Hamburger patty 1.6 oz to 8.0 oz (really a family serving); Muffin 3.0 oz to 6.5 oz; Chocolate bar 1 oz to a range of 2.6 to 8 oz.

Here are some suggestions on how to manage those larger portions:

1. Share a meal

2. Eat half or less

3. Skip second helpings or the all you can eat option

4. Slow down and chew. It takes your brain 20 minutes to figure out that you are full so give your brain and your stomach the time they need to communicate

5. Learn to read food labels

6. Use a smaller plate

7. Avoid the buffet line

Current food guides indicate that one half of your plate should be vegetables and fruit. One quarter of your plate should be grains and one quarter protein. A suggested serving of chicken, fish or beef would be the size of the palm of your hand. Cheese should be limited to the size of your thumb.

This is a challenge for the food industry. Reduction in portion size would have many positive benefits apart from the obvious impact on our health as a nation. Smaller portion sizes mean more control over soaring food costs. The industry would be better able to manage their increasing costs while reducing the impact to the consumer. Smaller food containers mean less waste and impact on the environment. Then there is the obvious reduction in medical costs.

Healthier eating is everyone’s responsibility and it will take the consumers, the politicians and the industry to bring about the changes needed.