Are you going to eat that? ‘No,’ Americans say

america eatingAmericans are eating less for the first time in the four decades since federal statistics have been monitoring the issue, according to the New York Times. Children are consuming 9% less calories a day, while average Americans are drinking 25% less full-calorie sodas since the late 90’s. But the drop in calories has occurred all across the demographic board – with slight differences between groups. For example, Caucasian families have reduced calorie intake more than black and Hispanic households. Either way, rates of obesity seem to have leveled off for adults and school-aged children, and declined for infants. It appears as if people have opened their eyes and closed their mouths. “I think people are hearing the message, and diet is slowly improving,” dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian said.

This awakening started in the late 90’s when a barrage of scientific data and public health campaigns revealed they true damage that eating and drinking excessively exacted on people. More specifically, a 1999 CDC study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association authored by Dr. Ali Mokdad really hit most people – even experts – where they lived. That particular research featured maps demonstrating worsening rates of obesity in all 50 states in the 80’s and 90’s. The following year Dr. Mokdad published a similar paper linking obesity rates to a surge in diabetes diagnoses. “People became more aware of it in a very visual and impactful way,” former food industry executive and current senior fellow at the Hudson Institute Hank Cardello said. “That created a lot of attention and concern.”

Eventually, people began to get the message. The number of Americans who told Gallup they wanted to lose weight increased from 35% in the 50’s to 52% in 1990 and to 60% in 2003. Additionally, the 2010 Affordable Care Act included a provision mandating that chain restaurants publish their meals’ content of calories, as well as required schools to make lunches healthier. Individual cities have also taken their own measures, such as subsidizing produce purchases (Philadelphia), limiting the kind of food available in day care centers (New York), and taxing sugary drinks (Berkeley, California). As a matter of fact, sodas have been the main target of most obesity awareness public campaigns. “I think the attitude more and more in this country is that it’s not a good idea to consume a lot of soda,” former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, currently teaching at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, said.

The impact of beverage companies has resulted in a shift toward diet drinks, new products like iced tea and flavored water, and smaller products, such as Coke mini-cans. And that seems to be part of the trend. Experts point out that people are not necessarily abandoning junk food for healthy meals, but that they are just eating less of everything – including vegetables and fruits. Moreover, as optimistic as the data is, this is not the beginning of the end – maybe not even the beginning of the end – of the obesity epidemic (which is itself a misnomer; it is not an actual epidemic because obesity is not an infectious disease). Over a third of Americans still fit the category of obese, and weight and waist circumference continue to increase in the heaviest Americans.

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