How to Get Fat Without Really Trying

Americans want to be thinner — yet they are getting fatter and fatter.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight and almost one in three Americans is obese, according to the federal government.

Who's to blame for America's obesity? Is it bad eating habits or poorly executed exercise regimes? Could the government and the food industry also be to blame?

"We're besieged," said Michael Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Wherever we go, we're encouraged to eat junk food."

Some say that personal health and well being are a matter of personal responsibility. But the processed food industry and the government know what is happening — and they are making a bad situation worse.

Last year there were more than 2,800 new candies, desserts, ice creams and snacks on the market — but only 230 new fruit or vegetable products.

"I think that the food industry is providing a wide variety of choice, and certainly if you look at some of the recent market trends, you're seeing a major increase in the good-for-you foods category," said Chip Kunde, the senior vice president of the International Dairy Foods Association.

"Ultimately it is a matter of personal choice," he said. "I mean we can't dictate what people choose to eat, so yes at some point what people choose to eat or how they choose to move is ultimately the issue here."

The problem is Americans are choosing foods with more sweeteners and more calories, drinking more sodas, eating more candy, and snacking all day. Is the food industry simply giving people the products they want?

"I don't think that you can talk about giving the public what the public wants without discussing the $33 billion a year that the food industry spends to try to promote that kind of want," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University.

In the last 20 years, the food industry has increased the size of the food products, increased the number of new products and increased the marketing of products.

Kunde said these strategies are not designed to get people to eat more, but rather to respond to people's needs.

‘Kids Are Big Business’

It starts young. Marketing experts say the food industry spends billions of dollars marketing food to children, and every year it spends more.

"Kids are a very dynamic audience," said Paul Kurnit, an advertising executive who specializes in marketing to children.

The reason why so much time and money are spent advertising to children is because "kids are in many ways unsocialized, they are fresh-eyed, they are open to new ideas," said Kurnit. "Kids are big business, there's no question about that."

Most of the food that is advertised to children is processed food — and it is exactly what children are buying.

Children spend more of their own money on food than anything else — more than on CDs or movies or clothes or toys. And the public health implications of children's diets are enormous.

"The problem is that most of the foods that are marketed to children are unhealthy foods," said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, "and the children are exposed to so many messages about junk food that the cultural norm around food has changed. So that children think that they should be getting candy and cookies and chips and soda and these other junkie foods all the time."

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