- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Armed
with a slew of reports that Americans are getting fatter by the day, the
U.S. Agriculture Department said Wednesday it was stepping up its assault
on poor eating habits.
- Starting early next year, the department said it will
launch a Web site where Americans can evaluate their diets and track changes
in their eating.
- The USDA said it will also hold a national summit to
focus more attention on healthy eating and will bring together researchers,
academics and food industry experts to analyze why Americans eat what they
- ``You've got to figure out what motivates people so you
can try to help them modify their diets,'' Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman
said at a symposium to discuss food choice.
- Just last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention in Atlanta said the prevalence of obesity, defined as being
more than 30 percent above ideal body weight, increased to 17.9 percent
of the U.S. population in 1998 from 12 percent in 1991.
- The CDC said the figures likely underestimate the problem
because people tend to downplay their own weight. The study was based on
a survey of more than 100,000 participants selected randomly each year.
- Glickman said making Americans thinner involves a lot
more than eating well.
- Americans need to get off their couches and chairs and
exercise more, he said, pointing to the increased time U.S. citizens spend
watching television, sitting in front of computer screens at work and surfing
the Internet at home.
- ``The ultimate challenge falls to the American people
to take responsibility for their own health, to improve their diets and
increase physical activity,'' Glickman said,
- Researchers told the USDA symposium that while studies
continue to evaluate why consumers choose the food they do, many children
learn eating habits from their parents.
- But forbidding kids from eating unhealthy snacks only
makes them want to eat more of the off-limits food when they are away from
their parents, and eventually those kids eat more of those foods, said
Dr. Leann Birch of Pennsylvania State University.
- Birch also said that as kids get older, their food portions
get bigger, which could be a factor in higher obesity rates.
- The Clinton Administration will release its revised dietary
guidelines next year, spelling out what Americans should eat and in what
quantities. Groups from the American Association of Retired Persons to
sugar and meat industry groups have been lobbying the government over what
changes should be made.
- Glickman acknowledged the new guidelines would likely
be controversial, but said it is the government's role to guide Americans
into adopting a healthier lifestyle.