- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

Obesity weighs heavily on Americans as experts continue to quarrel over the causes of weight gain, citing seductive fast food or sedentary lifestyle.

One group of researchers blames it on our super-size culture rather than lack of willpower, however.

University of Pennsylvania researchers who compared restaurant meal portions in Paris and Philadelphia found U.S. diners typically were served 25 percent more their Parisian counterparts.

There is wanton abuse of won tons in particular: Chinese restaurants in the United States offer their diners up to 72 percent more food than they get in a Chinese restaurant in France.

Grocery stores were equally to blame. The researchers found 14 of 17 items studied were larger in America. A candy bar sold here was 41 percent larger than the same product in Paris, a soft drink was 52 percent larger, a hot dog 63 percent larger and a carton of yogurt 82 percent larger.

“Much discussion about the ‘obesity epidemic’ in the U.S. has focused on personal willpower, but our study shows that the environment also plays an important role. People may be satisfied even if served less than they would normally eat,” noted Paul Rozin, the psychologist who directed the study.

The fat police also are pointing their fingers at American mothers this week. Well-meaning moms piloting those minivans may not be helping their children avoid obesity, according to a study from Brigham Young University, also released yesterday.

Our children are ferried to school, play, shopping. Walking, either because of logistics or cultural pressures, simply isn’t a factor anymore. Eighty-five percent of our youngsters go to school by car or bus.

The researchers gave pedometers to almost 2,000 children in the United States, Australia and Sweden, to reveal that young Americans lag behind the pack. Swedish children on average took 18,346 steps a day, the Australians 15,023 and Americans 13,872, the study found.

“The Swedish children were significantly more active than the Australian and American children, and the American children were significantly heavier than the Australian and Swedish children,” the study concluded.

It has not escaped the notice of the federal government.

“Children’s dependence on their parents and other adults to drive them to and from school represents a missed opportunity for physical activity, increases traffic congestion and threatens the safety and quality of the environment in which we all live,” advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has inaugurated a “Kids Walk” program to promote walking and biking to school.

Starting early is not a bad idea. Just 18 percent of us have lost weight in the past five years, according to a Gallup poll released yesterday. Forty-four percent said they had gained weight and 38 percent said their weight had stayed the same in the last five years.

The chubby factor itself has become a national common denominator.

“Surprisingly, weight gain seems to be common among Americans regardless of their background or characteristics, with only modest differences among various demographic groups,” noted the poll of 1,000 adults taken July 7-9.

But not everybody is obsessed by weight. A Roper poll released earlier this year claims people are more interested in their “fiscal rather than physical fitness.” The survey, conducted in January, found that respondents were more interested in losing debt than pounds. Thirty-seven percent said getting out of debt was more important than weight and physical fitness, which were cited by 29 percent.


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