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Why is the United States the Fattest of 33 Nations?

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Martha Rosenberg

In a report just released by the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development), the United States has the highest rate of obesity of 33 countries. Mexico and New Zealand are next runners up in obesity and India and Indonesia have the lowest rates of obesity.

While half of Americans were overweight in 1980, 70 percent now tip the scales at unhealthy weights says the report. By 2020, three-fourths of all Americans are expected to be overweight, says OECD, an organization that advises governments on economic growth, social development and financial stability.

The prognosis could be even worse for 2030. By then, 86 percent of Americans could be overweight says an 2008 article in the journal Obesity.

Most food researchers indict a sedentary lifestyle that revolves around television and video games for US obesity, especially among children. Instead of playing outside, children and teenagers engage in activities which consume no calories at the same time they are exposed to commercials for high calorie meals and snacks.

But the demise of the once predictable family dinner routine is also a factor says the Star-Tribune. Structured family meals give a sense of safety and security to children at the same time they teach healthful eating habits. When people eat alone, often accompanied by television, they consume larger portions than they realize and also tend to make unhealthy food choices, studies have shown.

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has found that substance abuse is significantly lower in families that eat together three times a week. Food addictions are increasingly being viewed as a type of substance abuse.

Another factor in US childhood obesity is proximity to high calorie food. A 2010 study by the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University found 9th graders whose schools are close to fast food restaurants are more likely to be obese. And the New York Times recently found that both adults and children who ride public transportation tend to be less obese. Clearly exercise, including walking, and bypassing unhealthy food outlets help keep the excess weight off.

There are other reasons the US is one of the fattest nations in the world, say public health observers.

Size inflation -- women's size fives are now size zeros -- and "forgiving" clothing designs made with Spandex and latex give a false sense of thinness. And baggy, low hung, hip hop fashions tend to fit regardless of the excess weight of their wearers.

Food is also cheaper and more available than it used to be. Snacks are offered in more public places than before, super-sizing prices dominate at fast food restaurants and drive-in restaurants are more common.

Another ironic factor for Americans' increasing food consumption is that many adults are attempting to quit smoking. They are trading one oral habit for another.


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