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Thinking Mini, Going Maxi

March 22, 2004

Just as in the case of the hungry man who heard about a great buffet but arrived after too many others had grazed the table, there's good news and bad news for Americans on the broadening overeating front (and rear). This is an important year for eating. So was last year. And every year all the way back to the Pilgrims, whose first official act, you may remember, was to sit down and eat a lot of the Indians' food.

For millenniums, humans ate to fuel themselves for work. Refining that tradition, Americans now do other stuff to eat. They drive, talk, wait, work, read, ride and watch TV while eating. Americans eat, therefore they are. In fact, federal highway officials, who enjoy takeout too, put exit ramps on the vast interstate system so Americans could eat every 14 or 15 miles.

For months, other feds, some perhaps a little porky themselves, have carped about overweight Americans, those of us who've put on a few dozen extra pounds by eating much of what we see on TV when we're not working out. Some lettuce-eating alarmists say 65% of adult Americans are obese, which is surely bad for health, although cardiac surgeons, restaurants and those in the $33-billion weight-loss business don't seem to mind.

To gain public notice these days you need a race -- for recall, president, playoffs. So health feds warn that obesity is closing on smoking in deadliness. Should more people light up to keep smoking the No. 1 evil? Should we mandate non-eating sections in every restaurant?

As Americans sit down to chew on the 2004 centennial of the hamburger's invention, McDonald's suddenly announces it's minimizing super-sizing. By year's end, no more XL fries and drinks. Healthier to eat smaller, it says. Smaller is better? In America? So, are two small fries twice as healthful? Next thing you know, Krispy Kreme will have low-cal doughnuts. Oh, wait, they're working on that. Less sugar too. Gee, that'll be fun -- a non-sinful diet doughnut. We can only hope they'll taste as good as the diet chips that chew like paper. Then Coca-Cola creates a Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness to invent nutritious new drinks. What gives?

Now M&M's! Because of health trends and stagnant sales, Mars Inc. announced redesigned M&M's. Not, thank goodness, the sugar-coated chocolate candy itself, just the blah-brown packaging. Americans, it seems, like brighter colors while getting obese.

Also pouring against the health trend is 7-Eleven. Some outlets offer free coffee if you buy two doughnuts. Hey, it's the rules. Who can pass up such economy? And is it an illusion that 7-Eleven's soda drink cups now start at Super Large, moving up through Gargantuan to Global and Galactic Gulps? Did you know that some people still think those tanker trucks outside 7-Elevens are hauling gasoline?

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