Our editor's column for February 2003

THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF DISCUSSION recently about the obesity problem in the U.S. Today about 60 percent of Americans are considered overweight or obese. Some consumers point the finger at fast food outlets and restaurants that serve mammoth portions. Others place the blame on food companies with the main culprit identified as marketing campaigns.

While nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population has a weight problem, statistics from the American Obesity Association say that only about 40 percent of physicians ever discuss the problem with patients. With obesity rates in children and adolescents running close to 15 percent, it’s no surprise that half of all adolescents watch two hours of TV a day. But their parents are not faring much better, chained to desks and imprisoned in cars on a long, daily commute.

Scores of food and beverage companies such as Sara Lee, Pepsi and Hershey are partnering with associations such as the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition to get practical solutions for tackling obesity into the hands of parents, teachers, communities and policy makers.

We do have a problem in this country and we do need more healthy food choices. But let’s not get this one basic fact wrong: McDonald’s and Wendy’s hamburgers are not going away anytime soon. Snacking in the car is not going away either. But fasten your seatbelts and lower your tray tables because now more snacking options are in the offing as the airlines allow passengers to buy better-tasting (I wonder) meals at 35,000 feet. Just what dieters need—another reason to buy food when you’re bored and forced into inactivity for several hours.

At the supermarket check out a few weeks ago, the checker informed me that I had won a prize. It was a little container of Chips Ahoy conveniently packaged to fit my car cup holder. I would never in a million years purchase a bag of Chips Ahoy. And it’s not because I don’t like them. I just can’t have that kind of thing in my house. But now here I am holding the mini cookie version for my cup holder. I loved them. Yes, Nabisco, you are tempting me to buy the mini Chips Ahoy again. I may not be happy, Nabisco, but you definitely have a winner on your hands.

The point is we all have a choice to eat and purchase different types of food and we all have the freedom to make good or bad choices. The obesity problem has become more complex than “just say no” to high calorie foods. So the debate on how to quell the great American appetite remains elusive. I’d love to know what you think food manufacturers can do to help solve the problem.