"Industry lowered the fat the way we wanted them to do . . . but they made it up with sugar, " said Dr. William Dietz, who heads the division of nutrition and physical activity for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sugar "turns up in some unlikely places," according to an Agriculture Department report called "America's Eating Habits." The secret-sugar sources? Pizza, hot dogs, boxed rice mixes, soup, crackers, spaghetti sauce, lunch meat, canned vegetables, fruit drinks, flavored yogurt, ketchup, salad dressing, mayonnaise and peanut butter.
While the food gets sweeter and richer, more jobs call for less physical activity, with millions of workers spending hours parked at their computers.
About 52% of Americans are overweight, up from 33% just a decade ago, according to government estimates. The proportion of children under 18 who are too heavy has doubled to 10%. Type 2 diabetes, formerly called adult-onset diabetes, is showing up in children as young as 4.
"Basically, we have eliminated the opportunities for physical activity from our daily lives," said the CDC's Dietz, who notes that one-fourth of the trips taken by Americans are of less than one mile in distance, and three-fourths of those are made by car.
Americans Become More Sedentary
As adults have grown more sedentary, so too have children. Soccer games may proliferate on the weekends, but state and local community budgetary constraints have limited physical education classes at school. About 42% of high school children participated in such classes in 1991, but the percentage declined drastically to 27% by 1997, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Illinois is the only state with mandated physical education for high school students.
For the first time since the dietary guidelines were issued in 1980, the government is now declaring that exercise is just as important as eating properly. The recommendation in the new guidelines issued Saturday calls for 30 minutes of exercise daily, at least five days a week. Children should exercise for an hour.
"Most Americans know already that they should aim for a healthy weight," said Kennedy of the Agriculture Department. "What we have to do is figure out what are the barriers preventing them from acting, and how to overcome those barriers."
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A Growing Problem
The increasing ranks of overweight or obese Americans has prompted the federal government to take a more aggressive approach to combating unhealthy diets.
% of U.S. adults considered obese, which is more severe than being overweight
17.9% in 1998
Source: American Medical Assn.