Food Engineering

The girl can't help it

June 2, 2004




I really don't want to turn this column into a monthly tirade on the woes of the overweight American population. But sometimes, I just can't help it. Unless you have been living under a rock for the past year, you know how barraged we have become at home and at work about diet, fitness, fat, carbs and calories.

With food companies across America reformulating products to comply with the Atkins diet and major restaurant chains revamping menus to rid themselves of carbs and trans fats, the food industry is truly at a crossroads in the fight against obesity.

A few weeks ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) addressed the obesity problem. According to WHO, a few largely preventable risk factors account for most of the world's diseases. This reflects a significant change in diet habits and physical activity levels worldwide and is a result of industrialization, urbanization, economic development and increasing food industry globalization, the organization reports.

For the record, WHO suggests limiting intake of sugars, fats and salt in foods, and increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts. The organization also stresses the need for countries to develop national strategies with the long-term goal to make healthy choices the preferred alternatives at both the individual and community level.

Back in my high school days, I recall reporting to the school nurse once a year to receive a lecture on nutrition. Skip the pizza, french fries and soda in the cafeteria, she recommended. Unfortunately her words fell on many deaf ears. I am sure very few of the thousands of kids in my high school ever heeded her words.

A new study from the US Agricultural Research Service (ARS) says increased work-week hours and a doubling of the number of US fast food restaurants to about 250,000 in the past 25 years have influenced the amount of time people spend on food shopping and meal preparation. The researchers concluded that planning weekly meals and related grocery shopping will help adults resist the fast-meal decisions that lead to grabbing a quick bite on the run. Foods obtained from pizza and fast food places were defined as fast food in this study. Those who consumed fast food on two consecutive days, when compared to those who didn't, showed higher mean body mass indexes and higher odds of being overweight, concludes the ARS study.

If the US government and Madison Ave. can somehow collaborate on a "get moving America and everything in moderation" campaign that is anywhere as successful as the word of mouth phenomenon of the Atkins diet, we may make some headway in the fight against obesity. Fast-paced lives often lead to poor food choices. If only Madison Ave. or a top-selling book could solve career stress.

In the meantime, some of us will fight calories and carbs and others will continue to make poor choices. Unfortunately, many of the busy girls, as well as the boys, just can't help it.