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Food consumption has changed radically, and for the worse, in the U.S.

Jan Hearne • Jun 25, 2012 at 8:32 AM

Of all the problems we have in our society, perhaps the most underrated and least understood is obesity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than one-third of American adults are obese, with obesity defined as a body mass index equal to or greater than 30. That’s 174 pounds or more for a 5-foot-4-inch-tall woman or 203 pounds or more for a 5-foot-9-inch-tall man.

Dire predictions are being made for our future: Health care costs will sky rocket as 35.5 percent of our society deals with the effects of obesity, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and loss of mobility; quality of life will decline; productivity will decline; mortality rates will increase; and so on.

Despite thousands of articles and TV spots urging us to eat healthy foods and exercise, the number of obese Americans doesn’t decline.

It’s no wonder. Look at any TV news magazine show or open any magazine for that matter, and you’ll receive conflicting messages: Lose weight/Try this dreamy cheesecake. Exercise more/Rich chocolate brownies in 20 minutes.

I was pondering this contradiction when I ran across a telling photo in my 1960 World Book, letter “F.” In an article about food, there was a photo of the typical 1960 American family — mom and dad, one boy, one girl — surrounded by the food the average American family ate in a year.

While the toll on the animal population was considerable, there were also cases of fruits and vegetables, stacks and stacks of egg cartons, bread (white) by the cartful and bushels of potatoes.

The caption read: “The food consumed by an Average Family in the United States amounts to two and a half tons a year. It includes 405 pounds of milk and cream, 144 pounds of meat, 433 pounds of vegetables, 263 pounds of cereals and 166 pounds of fruit.”

Contrast those figures with current figures from The Atlantic: One American eats on average per year: 200 pounds of meat; 31 pounds of cheese; 16 pounds of fish; 415 pounds of vegetables; 85.5 pounds of fats and oils; 42 pounds of corn syrup; 24 pounds of coffee, cocoa and nuts; 24 pounds of ice cream; 53 gallons of soda; 23 pounds of pizza; 29 pounds of french fries; and 24 pounds of artificial sweeteners for an average of 2,700 calories per day per person.

It’s no secret our society is based on consumption, but where do we draw the line? I am not passing judgment; I have a major sweet tooth and I love fat and salt. It’s very, very hard to live in our society while counting calories.

Do I have any answers? Well, think about cigarettes. Once a plume of smoke trailing from one’s mouth was considered glamorous. Cigarettes were equated with sophistication and sex appeal. Then, people started getting sick; we lost and continue to lose loved ones. As a consequence of these tragedies and aggressive anti-smoking campaigns, we have changed our ways.

In 1960, more than half of American adults smoked. That number was down to a new low of 18.1 percent in 2011.

Sadly, we may have to experience a generation of heartbreak before we get the message about obesity.

Jan Hearne is the PressTempo editor. Reach her at jhearne@johnsoncitypress.com.

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