Downsize this! Americans escalate their war on fat
SHERMAN OAKS, CALIF.
Bobo "Refrigerator" Simon says his days with a 48-inch waistline are numbered - whether he likes it or not.Skip to next paragraph
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"McDonald's cutting back its supersize menu is the last straw," says the appliance salesman, chomping into a carton of fries in the cold shadow of some Golden Arches here. "You know when the dieting craze hits one of America's biggest fast-food outlets, there's no place left for us fatties to hide."
That isn't literally true, of course, not in the land of the Big Gulp. But America has a fresh fixation on a problem that, apparently, has become extra, extra large. The nation's war on fat is escalating on several fronts, from exercise to fast-food-bashing to the carb-consciousness in which "Atkins" is in, starch is out.
On one level, it's all too familiar. The "battle of the bulge" has gone from dieting catchphrase to cliché and back to a piece of World War II history. But there's now an undercurrent of urgency that makes this time different.
Tuesday the government said smoking may soon be overtaken by poor diet and lack of exercise as the leading cause of preventable deaths.
"America is in the midst of a sea change in shifts of how we look at food and dieting," says Amy Lanou, nutrition director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington research group that emphasizes preventive approaches.
The comment echoes that of other health experts and culture watchers who say see McDonald's announcement last week that it will no longer offer the famous portion upgrade known as "supersize" - larger fries and drinks for pennies extra - as part of new consciousness in the US.
Recent studies indicate that one-third of Americans are overweight and one-fifth are obese.
The responses are becoming widespread:
• With obesity surging in children, school districts increasingly are saying no to sugary food and sodas.
• State legislatures doubled the number of bills and resolutions this year targeting what is now perceived as a crisis, especially among children - taxing movie tickets to pay for fat-fighting programs, beefing up phys-ed in schools, and requiring restaurants to offer healthier options on children's menus. And a number are considering exempting restaurants from being sued for weight-related health issues.
• Whether liable or not, businesses are adapting, too. Southwest Airlines now asks some larger passengers to purchase two seats on crowded flights - to prevent discomfort for other fliers. Grocery aisles offer smaller soda cans and "low-carb" foods.
Where the view in the mirror has long driven the diet-conscious, today more and more parents are noticing how many of their kids are dimpled, dumpy, paunchy and plump, and are concerned.
The move by McDonald's is about more than just portion size. After decades of dieting focused on low-fat foods, the battleground has shifted to carbohydrates as the primary culprit in the nation's overeating habits. Ads for the "Atkins" and "South Beach" low-carb diets are are virtually inescapable. Newer methods ("Beyond Atkins") are already refining the concept.