Eating Well but Weight Still Creeping On? Pay Attention to Portion Sizes, Snacking

Two disturbing news items about adult obesity in America have come out this month that should encourage us to re-examine the kind and amount of food we consume each day. The first is the just-released report F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011 from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. According to the report, the obesity rate in America continues to rise, and 16 states saw an increase in the percentage of obese citizens within the past year alone. Every state with the sole exception of Colorado now has an obesity rate of over 20%, and twelve states – mostly in the South – have obesity rates exceeding 30%.

The costs of the obesity epidemic – to our individual health as well as our nation – are monumental. Policymakers are calling on everyone from the medical community to the food and beverage industry to help reverse this public health crisis.

How is it that we’re getting fatter and fatter despite the constant barrage of information about diet, exercise, and healthy eating habits?

One clue can be found in another study released this week from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study, which examined US population and diet data dating back to 1977, looked at the contributions of the energy density of foods, number of eating occasions and portion sizes over time. It was discovered that the average American today consumes about 570 more calories each day than back in 1977. Without any commensurate increase in daily activity to burn those extra calories, that could translate to up to a pound a week in weight gain!

Dr. Barry Popkin, lead author of the study, concluded that larger portions and more frequent snacking are major contributing factors to the increase in our daily caloric intake. “First, the food industry started ‘super sizing’ our portions, then snacking occasions increased and we were convinced we needed to drink constantly to be hydrated,” Dr. Popkin explains. “This study shows how this epidemic has crept up on us. The negative changes in diet, activity and obesity continue and are leading to explosions in health-care costs and are leading us to become a less healthy society.”

So even if you’re making positive changes to your diet and eating well- balanced, nutrient dense foods, the amount of food you consume and the calories you burn up each day will determine your ability to maintain a healthy weight. What can we conclude from all this? Nothing you haven’t heard before: Move more, eat less.