• U.S.

Health: The Year of Obesity

3 minute read
Michael D. Lemonick


America’s fat crisis has been a long time coming. Diet books have been selling briskly for decades, and Richard Simmons’ fitness infomercials from the ’80s seem positively retro. Despite a national obsession with losing weight, however, we have continued to put on pounds. Today one-third of Americans are not just overweight but obese. That’s why the issue got more attention in 2004 than ever before from health experts, government agencies and the media–including Time and abc News, which jointly sponsored a conference on obesity in May. And it’s why I’ve decided–on my own authority–to declare 2004 the Year of Obesity. Here are the highlights:

–Americans flocked to see Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock’s documentary about what happens when you eat nothing but McDonald’s food for a month. Now McDonald’s is discontinuing its Super Size option.

–Two dozen states took steps toward phasing out soda and junk food in schools, following 20 other states that already had such bans.

–Outgoing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson used every opportunity to urge Americans to carry a pedometer and take more steps every day.

–The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc) announced in March that poor diet and lack of exercise resulted in 400,000 deaths in 2000 and were about to overtake smoking as the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the U.S. In November the cdc admitted that the real number was probably much lower–but that obesity is still the No. 2 cause of death.

–After his death in 2003, Dr. Robert Atkins’ diet was more popular than ever, as low-carb foods crowded supermarket shelves, much as low-fat foods had a few years earlier. But most experts say it’s wrong to focus on one aspect of your food intake: the right fats and the right carbohydrates in the right proportion are part of any sensible diet.

–The as-yet-unapproved drug Acomplia made headlines as a potential treatment for obesity, smoking and maybe cholesterol and drug addiction as well.

–The government is rewriting its dietary guidelines–the scientific underpinnings of the food pyramid–to try to get Americans to eat healthier.

–The World Health Organization put forward a strategy to fight obesity worldwide, proof that the problem is hardly limited to the U.S.

The list goes on. With a sharper focus on obesity than ever before in our diet-obsessed nation, maybe the tide will start to turn (and indeed preliminary data from 2003 show that the decades-long rise in obesity may have peaked at last). I hope so. Not only would Americans have longer, healthier lives, but I could declare 2005 the Year of Getting Fit.

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