- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans are fat, getting fatter -- and may not
be able to do anything about it, experts said Thursday. And it will take
serious social and possibly even legislative changes to save the next generation
from being even more obese.
- Writing in the journal Science, nutritionist
James Hill of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver
and John Peters at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati said it was not enough
to tell people to eat less and exercise more. ``We ignore the obvious sometimes
about what's causing the problem,'' Hill said in a telephone interview.
``I think we have got to realize that yelling at people louder is not going
to get them to do things.'' Obesity has been declared a global epidemic
by the World Health Organization and the International Obesity Task Force.
But it is worst in the United States, where 54 percent of the adults are
overweight and 22 percent are obese. A quarter of all American children
are overweight or obese, as well, and similar trends are seen in Britain,
Canada, Australia, Sweden and Brazil. ``If this trend continues, the entire
U.S. adult population could be overweight within a few generations,'' Hill
and Peters wrote.
- They, along with other experts, explained
how hard it is to fight obesity in humans in a series of reports in this
week's Science. Humans evolved to put on fat to get through lean times,
and the body is loath to give up even an ounce. Genes, brain chemicals
and programmed behavior all conspire to make sure that extra energy gets
stored during times of plenty. But in the late 20th century, every day
is a time of plenty.
- ``The whole food supply is high-fat,''
Hill complained. Portions are huge and getting bigger, and people are simply
not programmed to leave food on their plates. But he does not think restaurant
reform will be enough to help people who are already overweight, or headed
there. ``I think I would put my money on saving the kids,'' he said. ''I
think obesity is a difficult situation to reverse once it's there. I hate
to say they're doomed, but I think we might be better able to prevent it
than to cure it.''
- And the country had better act fast,
he added. ``We've got the fattest, least fit generation of kids ever,''
he said. ``I think the next generation of kids, all things being what they
are now, are going to be even fatter.'' The real key, he said, will be
exercise. ``One thing that I think we could really accomplish is get physical
activity back in the schools,'' he said. Parents also had to get their
children to exercise -- and not ``lay on the couch, eating pizza and watching
TV'' while they do it, Hill said.
- Hill and Peters suggest that employers
and insurers could give people incentives to exercise. ``If somehow your
number of vacation days were tied to your physical fitness level, it would
probably be cost-effective to do things like this,'' he said. ``Active
people have fewer health problems. They'd take fewer sick days. You could
given them a break on their insurance.'' Policymakers needed to get involved,
too. ``This is a serious threat to the health of Americans,'' Hill said.
``It may take decades. But if you said in the 1950s, we should stop the
smoking epidemic, people would have said never.''