Toops Scoops: Americans Take New Measures in Obesity Struggle

Americans take new measures in the struggle with obesity. News and Trends Editor Diane Toops weighs in on the topic, in this month's Toops Scoops column.

By Diane Toops, News and Trends Editor

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It's time for New Year's resolutions, and losing weight is on most everyone's list … again. Obesity, which affects one in every three Americans - and the illnesses associated with it - costs the U.S. some $90.7 billion dollars a year in health care costs, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

The only difference this year may be that more adults are disillusioned with fad diets and quick fixes, and they are taking new measures to deep six the flab, according to Parade magazine's 2006 What America Eats survey. The survey of 1,015 adults found 65 percent of women and 55 percent of men are unhappy with their weight: 53 percent of women and 39 percent of men are on a diet and hope to lose an average of 39 pounds, while 10 percent want to lose 100 pounds or more.

Slimming down to feel better about themselves is the No. 1 reason for women to lose weight, while men want to feel better physically and gain more energy. To accomplish their goals, more than half of respondents to the survey consume more veggies (58 percent), fruits (57 percent), salads (57 percent) and chicken (51 percent); and 56 percent are cutting back on sweets.

Asked what influences their purchase decisions, 54 percent said adding whole grains to their diet is most important. Reduced fat came in second at 50 percent, and at least four in 10 are choosing smaller portions, reducing total calories, eating low-fat foods or smaller meals. And about six in 10 exercise to lose excess pounds or maintain their weight.

"This is great news," says nutritionist Marion Nestle of New York University and the author of the book "What to Eat." "People are recognizing what healthy food choices are and changing their behavior in numbers far higher than I'd have expected. If this trend keeps up, we could have a reversal in the obesity epidemic that's exploded in the past few years."

He/she dilemma

Both sexes have made healthy dietary changes, but more women have altered their eating habits. They are more likely to read labels and are aware of food products and the nutrients in them.

Larger numbers of women are cutting portion size (64 percent vs. 53 percent of men), reducing total calories (44 percent vs. 38 percent), eating smaller meals (44 percent vs. 32 percent) and substituting healthy alternatives (51 percent vs. 44 percent). Men are less likely to eat "chick foods," such as salads and fruits, but opt for healthier forms of "manly" protein (42 percent vs. 32 percent). And they look for products that are enriched or fortified.

Respondents at almost all economic levels are interested in healthy foods. In fact, 63 percent say they would choose a food on the basis of health rather than taste (a debatable statistic). Then again, three in four say they buy convenience foods to save time and look for recipes that are easy to prepare.

One curious finding of the survey is parents are in denial about their children. The American Obesity Assn. estimates at least 15 percent of kids and teens weigh too much, but only 9 percent of respondents think their kids are overweight.

Perhaps they should consider the following research. Sleep deprivation may be a prime reason behind the growing epidemic of obesity among kids, according to Dr. Shahrad Taheri of the University of Bristol. He believes sleeping less disturbs normal metabolism, which may contribute to obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

"Even two to three nights of shortened sleep can have profound effects," he says, adding the increasing availability of computers, mobile phones, TVs and other gadgets is chipping away even further at the time children have for sleep.

Good luck with those diet resolutions, and sweet dreams.

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