- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Junk foods such as desserts, chips and soft drinks make up 30 percent of Americans’ daily diet as obesity rates continue to climb, according to a new study published this month in the Journal of Food Chemistry and Analysis.

Sugary foods, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages account for nearly 25 percent of all calories consumed each day, despite the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets. Five percent of total calories eaten daily include salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks.

The lead investigator in the study, Gladys Block, a professor of epidemiology and public health nutrition at the University of California at Berkeley, said she had expected that Americans ate a lot of junk food. However, she “was surprised by the magnitude of it.”

Mrs. Block and her colleagues hoped the study would help understand American dietary patterns in order to reduce the trend of obesity in the United States.

The researches reviewed the results of a survey of 4,760 adults conducted in 1999 and 2000 by the federal government titled the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Those surveyed were questioned on the foods they had eaten in the last 24 hours.

Americans’ largest source of calories were regular soft drinks, making up 7.1 percent of their daily caloric intake. Those surveyed consumed sweets and desserts more than any other type of food, followed by hamburgers, pizza and potato chips. Cheese, beer and french fries were also high on the list.

The number of adults who are overweight or obese has steadily increased since 1980, according to the American Obesity Association. Today, 64.5 percent of individuals older than 20 are overweight, up from 46 percent since 1980. At 30.5 percent, the number of adults suffering from obesity has more than doubled.

“Obviously, this has to be contributing to the obesity problem,” Mrs. Block said. “My fear in addition to that is that we are getting so many calories from things that don’t give us vitamins and minerals.”

Because they are eating so many junk foods, she said Americans are not choosing enough healthy foods. Fruits and vegetables supply only a little more than 10 percent of daily calories.

Mrs. Block said this can lead to health concerns that result from malnutrition, including osteoporosis, heart disease and cancer. She said that most chronic diseases can be related to undernutrition.

“I believe the foundation of a diet should be abundant fruits and vegetables,” she said. She also recommends people eat multigrain breads and lean proteins such as fish.

Mrs. Block said she hopes her findings will prompt a change to healthier eating habits through actions taken by the government and the health care community. According to the study, doctors should advise people on what to eat to be healthy.

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