Downsize this! Americans escalate their war on fat
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Besides nutritional scrutiny, experts say the last quarter century has highlighted other American predilections that are as close under our noses as the sneeze guard at your local buffet. One is the need for exercise, especially as sedentary commutes grow longer. Another is for a healthy mental outlook. Then there's the fact that Americans like their products on the big side - from SUVs to big-screen TVs. Put food in that equation, and it helps explain why the American body has been getting larger.Skip to next paragraph
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Mix the two trends together and you get a fat sandwich with a side of corpulence.
"For all kinds of reasons, Americans have become completely conditioned to see basic serving sizes as something much larger than 30 to 40 years ago, and that is our biggest problem," says Ms. Lanou. American meal portions have grown, along with markings on packages which say what a "normal" helping is.
The trend separates America from the practices of Europeans, experts say, with smaller portions typical from France to Italy to Spain and even Germany.
"From candy bars to soda to bagels the portions are out of control," says Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh. She chronicles the rise of all-you-can eat restaurants where consumers learn to overeat because they want the most for their money.
The obesity challenge may run up against with another American penchant - the habit of suing to hold others accountable. The prospects of endless litigation about such food is becoming of more than passing concern.
"Psychologically in America in the past 10 years, we have become so lawsuit driven that it has seeped into the mind-set of an entire generation that anything can be made the problem of anyone else except yourself," says Terra Wellington, host of a Phoenix-based national TV series on balanced living. "We are becoming a nation of blaming, rejecting personal responsibility and lacking common sense."
But the US Congress is considering a so-called "cheeseburger bill," which would prevent Americans from suing fast-food giants such as McDonald's for making them overweight.
Indeed, even in a blame-game society, there is evidence that Americans are learning lessons and moving forward.
Grocery and restaurant associations report that the growth of healthier cuisines has never been stronger since the early days of nouvelle cuisine in the mid-70s, to spa and California cuisines in the eighties and "fusion" in the 1990s - all food movements which focused on lighter, less caloric food and sauces, and more diverse menus, balanced by fish, vegetables and fruits.
"It is taking time, but we are wising up, somewhat," says Susan Johnson, owner of Susan's Healthy Gourmet, a southern California firm that delivers fresh, calorie-counted gourmet meals. Nine years ago, she says her firm was considered a niche market, now her fare is mainstream.
"People are ... telling waiters to hold the butter, put the dressing on the side, and hold the bun."