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The Tide Has Turned: American’s Are Finally Eating Less

Posted by on November 18, 2015 in Food, Drink & Nutrition, Health with 2 Comments

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By Marcot Sanger-Katz | The New York Times

After decades of worsening diets and sharp increases in obesity, Americans’ eating habits have begun changing for the better.

Calories consumed daily by the typical American adult, which peaked around 2003, are in the midst of their first sustained decline since federal statistics began to track the subject, more than 40 years ago. The number of calories that the average American child takes in daily has fallen even more — by at least 9 percent.

The declines cut across most major demographic groups — including higher- and lower-income families, and blacks and whites — though they vary somewhat by group.

In the most striking shift, the amount of full-calorie soda drunk by the average American has dropped 25 percent since the late 1990s.

As calorie consumption has declined, obesity rates appear to have stopped rising for adults and school-aged children and have come down for the youngest children, suggesting the calorie reductions are making a difference.

Related Article: 5 Tips to ‘Trick Yourself’ into Eating Less and Eating Healthier

The reversal appears to stem from people’s growing realization that they were harming their health by eating and drinking too much. The awareness began to build in the late 1990s, thanks to a burst of scientific research about the costs of obesity, and to public health campaigns in recent years.

The encouraging data does not mean an end to the obesity epidemic: More than a third of American adults are still considered obese, putting them at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Americans are still eating far too few fruits and vegetables and far too much junk food, even if they are eating somewhat less of it, experts say.

But the changes in eating habits suggest that what once seemed an inexorable decline in health may finally be changing course. Since the mid-1970s, when American eating habits began to rapidly change, calorie consumption had been on a near-steady incline.

Related Article: What Really Caused the Obesity Epidemic, and How Can It Be Reversed?

“I think people are hearing the message, and diet is slowly improving,” said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

Barry Popkin, a University of North Carolina professor who has studied food data extensively, described the development as a “turning point.

There is no perfect way to measure American calorie consumption. Butthree large sources of data about diet all point in the same direction. Detailed daily food diaries tracked by government researchers, data from food bar codes and estimates of food production all show reductions in the calories consumed by the average American since the early 2000s. Those signals, along with the flattening of the national obesity rate, have convinced many public health researchers that the changes are meaningful.

The eating changes have been the most substantial in households with children. Becky Lopes-Filho’s 4-year-old son, Sebastian, has always been at the top of the growth chart for weight. Ms. Lopes-Filho, 35, is the operations manager of a pizzeria in Cambridge, Mass., and her son, like her, loves food. As he has gotten older, she has grown more concerned about his cravings for sweets. Instead of a cookie every day now, she said, she has been trying to limit him to one a week. “If he was given access, he would just go nuts,” she said. “He, I think, would tend to be a super obese kid.”

Related Article: New Reality: Healthy Seismic Shift In American Food Industry

There is no single moment when American attitudes toward eating changed, but researchers point to a 1999 study as a breakthrough. That year, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a paper in The Journal of the American Medical Association that turned into something of a blockbuster.

The paper included bright blue maps illustrating worsening obesity rates in the 1980s and 1990s in all 50 states. Researchers knew the obesity rate was rising, but Dr. Ali Mokdad, the paper’s lead author, said that when he presented the maps at conferences, even the experts were gasping. A year later, he published another paper, with a similar set of maps, showing a related explosion in diabetes diagnoses. “People became more aware of it in a very visual and impactful way,” said Hank Cardello, a former food industry executive who is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a conservative policy center. “That created a lot of attention and concern.”

Shortly afterward, the surgeon general, Dr. David Satcher, issued a report — “Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity” — modeled on the famous 1964 surgeon general’s report on tobacco. The 2001 report summarized the increasing evidence that obesity was a risk factor for several chronic diseases, and said controlling children’s weight should be a priority, to prevent the onset of obesity-related illnesses.


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  1.' Adrian Flemeau says:

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