- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

LONDON — In one field of possibly questionable human endeavor, Americans are having to move over and make room for the British, who a survey shows have overtaken the Yanks in their love of greasy junk food.

According to new research for the British Broadcasting Corp., Britain today leads the world — or at least the part of it that really cares about such things — in its adoration of hamburgers, French fries and pizzas with all the toppings.

Yes, and even chicken wings.

A resounding 45 percent of Britons said “yes” when asked whether they agreed with this simple statement: “I like the taste of fast food too much to give it up.”

That was one point higher than when the same question was asked in the United States, which for decades was the world’s unrivaled leader in that particular realm of culinary achievement.

The survey, conducted for the BBC by the global market research firm Synovate, queried some 9,000 people in 13 nations across five continents. Their responses did little if anything to calm growing fears that an entire generation now risks being blighted by cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses triggered by obesity in old age.

For reasons that were not explained, third place in the survey went to the United Arab Emirates, where 35 percent of those questioned confirmed they had no intention of giving up their love affair with the fast food that has long seemed so quintessentially American.

Perhaps it was no surprise that the least susceptible to the junk-food fad are the French, among whom barely 19 percent of those polled admitted a fondness for the stuff.

“Sharing classic food and time with loved ones is key to French sensibility,” Synovate spokesman Thierry Pailleux explained to British journalists. “French people take care of their image as a matter of course.”

But the research dismayed food authorities concerned about the soaring rates of obesity in many countries, among which Britain and the United States are, well, among the biggest.

Douglas Smallwood, a spokesman for the Diabetes UK charity, described the survey as “a sad indictment of current eating habits in the UK. Obesity is one of the leading causes of Type 2 diabetes, a serious condition which can lead to heart disease, kidney failure and blindness.”

“The news that fast food is so popular here is worrying,” Lisa Cooney of the World Cancer Research Fund told British newspapers, “as fast food is often energy-dense and tends to be consumed in large portions.”

A report by some 250 leading scientists warned three months ago that if present trends continue, 60 percent of men, 50 percent of women and 25 percent of children in Britain will be deemed clinically obese by 2050.

Synovate’s survey also found that fast-food junkies devise a variety of explanations for the expanding global problem of obesity. While 40 percent of those interviewed conceded that food is the problem, 18 percent blamed a lack of exercise and 11 percent cited genetics.

But the bottom line, Steve Garton of Synovate told the BBC, is that “people are inherently contradictory, and nowhere is it more obvious than on such a sensitive and important issue as their weight.”

The results of his firm’s survey, Mr. Garton said, “show there’s a world of people who cannot deny themselves that hamburger or extra piece of pizza.” He conceded, however, that they “probably make themselves feel better by washing it down with a diet cola.”

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