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Latest Obesity Stats (-- LA Times)


- 29.5% of Mississippi residents were obese.
- Nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South.
- From 2004 to 2005, the percentage of obese people increased in 31 states and stayed constant in the rest. No state showed a decline.
- "Obesity now exceeds 25% in 13 states, which should sound some serious alarm bells."
- The states with the highest rates of obesity are also those with the highest rates of hypertension and diabetes, which are typically associated with fat.
- At least 27% of healthcare costs in the United States are a result of obesity and lack of physical activity.

Then the kicker: This info was collected through phone interviews, with women generally understating their weight and men overstating their height. "As a result, the data probably underestimate the true extent of obesity."

Shocking and sad.

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  1. I question the numbers. I just did a quick check on the obesity % for NY, NJ, and Connecticut. All were 23.2%. That's too much of a coincidence.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Bob Martinez

      Hmm. This was what showed up on the interactive map http://www.rwjf.org/files/newsroom/in... :
      New York: 21.7% obesity, 57.9% overweight & obese
      New Jersey: 21.4% obesity, 58.7% overweight & obese
      Connecticut: 19.6% obesity, 56.4% overweight & obese

    2. "This info was collected through phone interviews, with women generally understating their weight and men overstating their height"

      Umm, if the info was collected by phone, how do they know that anything was reported accurately or inaccurately?

      I cannot say for sure about women reporting their weight, but I am a fifty year old man and certainly have never lied about my height. Why would you? especially to someone on the phone?

      4 Replies
      1. re: FrankJBN

        Research methodology is explained on page 10 of the 76 page report that is attached in the link.
        Feel free to punch holes in it after you've gone through it. Would love to hear your statistical analysis, if you have some additional insight to share.

        1. re: Pupster

          Here are some teling statistics:

          "A 2002 study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality determinedthat obese individuals age 55 and older have higher annual medical care expenses than normal-weight and overweight individuals ($7,235 for obese, $5,478 for overweight, and $5,390 for normal-weight persons)."

          So, on average, being "overweight" increases costs by 1.6%, which would seem to verge on statistically insignificant.

          Being obese increases costs by 34%, more than 20 times as much.

        2. re: FrankJBN

          Are you a decent height? Shorter men often seem to half-believe they are a couple of inches taller than they are. I mean I know I'm 5"6, and I dated guys who were clearly my height or shorter who would say they were 5"8.
          Also, my Dad used to be 5"8 or so and now appears to be my height or shorter. The shrinkage happened in his mid to late 50s. I know he's aware of it from physicals but I can see how on a survey he might still say he is the height he was for 40 years.

          1. re: julesrules

            " I mean I know I'm 5"6, and I dated guys who were clearly my height or shorter who would say they were 5"8."

            Not to suggest that anything about your statement is inaccurate, but assessing height is a very tricky thing to do and the mind plays tricks. I'm 5'2" when I stand up VERY straight and my husband is 6'3" tall. When I'm with him I most specifically DO NOT have the sense that I'm shorter than he is. I have a very profound sense that I can look him in the eye at a level gaze even though my brain tells me this is, clearly, nutz! Still, the SENSE I have is of being on the same plane and I always find it amusing to pass a window and see how different the reflection is than my perception.

        3. Last night I watched a documentary that had new and old footage of a school marching band in New Orleans. In the present footage, it looked like 75 percent of the kids were seriously overweight. In the vintage film (looked like the '70s) they seemed of average weight.

          1. Women often (not always) understate their weight; just check their driver's license (mine included!).

            I'm far from obese, but after getting married last year, both DH & I have put on 20#. We eat more and more often. My meals pre-marriage were dinner dates, salads @ home (sometimes just a bag of popcorn), or even one beer. Not very chowish @ home, but was definitely chowish when I went out.

            1. How do they define "obesity"?

              5 Replies
                1. re: cheryl_h

                  A "size 10" woman can be at 30% body fat.

                  1. re: Funwithfood

                    BMI has nothing to do with body fat. The Body Mass Index is the weight in kg divided by the square of the height in meters, of [weight(kg)/ht(m)**2}. I can't format the square, but I'm using ** to indicate an exponent.

                    If you use pounds and inches, it's the [weight(lbs)/ht(in)**2]X 703. The 703 factor converts from metric to imperial units.

                    The BMI is used to classify weights as normal (18.5 - 24.9), overweight (15 - 29.9) and obese (30 and above).

                    The failing of the BMI is when body fat is low since lean muscle mass can heavy but not indicate obesity.

                    1. re: cheryl_h

                      I think the health benefits of obesity are well established. Outside of professional athletes, few people with a BMI of 30 or higher are trim and muscular.

                      The "overweight" category is the dubious one. I think a lot of fit people in that BMI range are perfectly healthy.

                      My "normal" range is 140 to 189 pounds.

                      My lowest adult weight was 145. I looked like a concentration camp survivor. Women at parties would try to force me to eat cake.

                      189 might be possible if I followed a strict diet forever. I'd probably have to cut back on weight training.

                      1. re: cheryl_h

                        Big oops. I just realized I typed in a BMI for "overweight" as 15 - 29.9, it should be 25 - 29.9.

                        I think the numbers are just a guide, much like cholesterol counts or blood sugar levels. Most physicians take into consideration the whole picture before telling a patient they need to lose weight.

                2. Does it even matter? We hear the stats, but I doubt anyone is going to realistically change their eating and lifestyle habits because of it. It takes a much more personal, individual shocker to do that.

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: chica

                    I think it matters from the perspective of it being a cultural phenomenon. Each person is obviously responsible for him/herself, but why are we, as a society, heading in this direction? Is there something that we can do, as a matter of public policy (governmental or otherwise), to help ourselves? We certainly seem to have attacked the smoking thing pretty well.

                    Burn down every McDonalds/BK/KFC/etc.?

                    Tarriff out of existence, all prepared/preserved/refined and regenerated, out-of-the-can/box foods (anything with HFCS, or any other super-refined, derivative product).

                    Create a culture of easily accessible (cheap/free) exercise, made common to the point that everybody participates.

                    I dunno... I just get the feeling that as long as there's big money to be made by keeping America fat, America will stay fat.

                    1. re: applehome

                      But there's also 'big money' being made by the diet industry---trying to get people fat is not uniquely profitable, and the food industry has low profit margins on average. Besides, this view paints consumers as dupes. I agree with the post below that we should end the food subsidies. But making food more expensive is going to be politically problematic. It's much easier to tax cigarettes (not a necessity) than food.

                      1. re: bella_sarda

                        "The food industry has low profit margins on average"

                        I believe you are thinking of the supermarket industry. Agribusiness is incredibly lucrative.

                        1. re: bella_sarda

                          Well - not to be totally pessimistic, but I believe that the big money being made on the diet industry is a big part of the keeping America fat industry.

                          1. re: applehome

                            i don't think you need to be pessimistic to draw that conclusion. common sense tells us that without fat people the diet industry would be out of business.

                      2. re: chica

                        If the federal government decreased subsidies on oil and corn and soybean production it would drive up the cost of empty calories and make most highly processed, unhealthy foods as well as excess meat products unaffordable to the average consumer. This in turn would cause individuals to change their eating habits to something that more closely resembles food consumption in the rest of the developed world, and in America 50 years ago. Skyrocketing health care costs linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes may serve as an impetus for this change, but I'm not holding my breath as long as there's billions to be made in fat America.

                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                          Well, that idea has been applied to cigarette taxes but its effects have not been as broad or deep as many hoped. Price is only one of many factors driving demand. See my comment below.

                        2. re: chica

                          It REALLY matters. Why do you think there has been so much hubbub and rhubarb over school lunches of late? People develop their tastes early on and we are the generations that were raised w/ lots of fatty and sugary convenience foods. And one of the first budget cuts in schools is in physical education programs. No Child Left Behind doesn't care if your kid can run a mile just that your kid can pass tests. LOTS can be done to change obesity rates in the future.

                        3. Wow, that's just sad. But after taking a month-long road trip around the US, it doesn't surprise me. The level of inactivity outside of just a few metopolitan areas is just shocking. Even kids who should be bursting with energy can't walk up a hill. I saw four year olds (and older) getting pushed in strollers! Preschoolers drinking cokes. Older kids nursing gigantic Frappuccinos. Portion sizes that just boggled the mind (and turned my stomach--if they are giving you so much for so little, it can't possibly be good). It's scary to contemplate what these kids will go through when they get older, since they may spend their entire lives with the problem.

                          1. If you think the latest percentages are scary check out this year by year map from the Center for Disease Control....now this is frightening!


                            Here in Canada we are not far behind. It is those southern states that jack up the US rates.

                            I am currently conducting research into childhood obesity. It is a pretty grim situation.


                            4 Replies
                            1. re: j2brady

                              Isn't is interesting that the highest obesity rates tend to occur in the poorest states? Kind of pokes a big hole in the theory that extremely cheap food is a good thing.

                              1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                All of the factors (except perhaps #5) I illustrated below can help explain this, more than merely "cheap food", among the chronically and/or acutely poor.

                                1. re: Morton the Mousse

                                  Actually, cost and availability do factor in hugely into the equation. Last year, Nightline did a whole week of obesity-related reports. One very telling thing was how far those in the working class and those on welfare and food stamps have to stretch their dollars. Unfortunately, soda is so much cheaper than milk or juice, processed food is cheaper than produce and fresh meats and fish, fast food is cheaper than healthy foods. For these people who have to work miracles to make their food budget last til the next paycheck, nutrition takes a back seat to satiation and the feeling of fullness.

                                  Worse was that in many inner city areas there are plenty of fast food outlets but hardly any supermarkets or farmers' markets. The constant beckoning of the quick flavor fix is hard to deny when grocery shopping is a trek and people have been working multiple jobs in a day (as many low-wage earners are forced to do).

                                  The feeling of helplessness and despair really jumped out from the screen.

                                  1. re: Morton the Mousse


                                    It is an absolute sin that this is going on. It is appalling that a family can buy Coke for their kids cheaper than milk or other over-processed junk instead of fresh fruit and veggies. It is disgusting!


                                2. Well, I would suggest that while government policies do factor in here (such as agricultural subsidies favoring certain foods over others, in the sometimes noble and sometimes ignoble effort to sustain divers farmers here, and zoning/tax/ development policies that favor fast food chains over mom & pop stores), there are cultural factors that probably vastly outweigh them:

                                  1. The steady decline of preparing and enjoying meals for families as a family, for a combination of reasons. When dining is reduced to eating, we will eat more to compensate for what is missing.

                                  2. The increasingly over-taxed work and school life of our family members.

                                  3. Depression, disthymia, and non-pathological factors: the afflictions of various types of poverty (not merely material, but emotional, spiritual and (oddly) physical) amid a culture of seeming affluence.

                                  4. Sleep deprivation. Getting insufficient high quality sleep can have huge effects on metabolic and other functions on certain subsets of people (there's some contrary evidence but it's less borne out by experience). Human beings have yet to physically adjust to clock-day over solar day in the wake of industrialization and artificial lighting; a couple of centuries is but a blink of an eye in terms of evolutionary time.

                                  5. The role of medications. Lots of common medications tamper with hormonal and other bodily patterns. This is not to demonize the meds, but to understand that there are costs that often remain long hidden and unattributed to balance the gains we wonder at.

                                  6. Natural selection, favoring people whose genetic ancestry favors slower metabolisms to survive famines.

                                  I could go on, these are merely illustrative. On top of this, I would add that small daily variances from optimal caloric intake can have huge cumulative effects. If you ate only 150 calories more than you needed a day (a bag of potato chips), the average person could gain 15 pounds in but one year, and people whose bodies do not fit the norms for caloric expenditure per activity and base metabolic rate could do this on far less of a variance. Most people do not go around with a precise calculator in their head, and we must always remember that much caloric information to develop dietetic advice is based on averages that may not apply in all cases. Et cet.

                                  1. Re the factoid in the original post:

                                    "At least 27% of healthcare costs in the United States are a result of obesity and lack of physical activity.

                                    I'm going to repost this quote from the stucy since it's sort of buried in a reply to a reply:

                                    "A 2002 study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality determinedthat obese individuals age 55 and older have higher annual medical care expenses than normal-weight and overweight individuals ($7,235 for obese, $5,478 for overweight, and $5,390 for normal-weight persons)."

                                    In other words, "overweight" people's health care costs are 1.6% higher than "normal-weight" people's.

                                    In comparison, "obese" people's health care costs are 34% higher.

                                    Given that I excercise an hour a day, I'm not going to worry about my BMI classifying me as "overweight," especially since weight training has converted a fair amount of my fat to muscle.

                                    In fact, I think I'll go have a few glasses of wine and some pate right now.

                                    1. One thing about BMI is that it is not cut and dry. It is not a sophisticated enough tool for those who are pretty muscular and athletic or pregnant women or those under 18 (although international age and gender calibrated BMIs for those under 18 have been developed).

                                      It is often used in conjunction with another measurement called waist hip ratio.


                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: j2brady

                                        Waist hip ratio kinda falls apart for pregnant women too :)

                                        Just joking, having been recently pregnant and thinking about the weight that I still carry around: my waist/hip ratio remains (I think) pretty good, because I have big old hips and *relatively* little fat around the middle. Is that how the ratio works? I always wonder about it because men are rarely bottom-heavy, and women's shapes change as they age too. I know they always talk about belly fat and heart health but I wonder if there are other correlated factors (age, sex, as yet unknown). I realize a good study would control for this...

                                        1. re: j2brady

                                          Yes, I am very large but I used to do weights* and now exercise a lot and my bodyfat percentage while still high is about considerably less than my BMI would estimate.

                                          * My sister and I used to joke that we were mendo-morphs: folks whose bodies were inclined to corpulence but who also bulked on muscle fast.

                                        2. So we usually get a report like this accompanied by advice to eat less fat, etc. People start eating lo-fat (mo-suga). People get fatter. The labeling of food product is a good thing. But I think we've gotten to think that the answer lies in reading labels and simple mathematic. When it gets to that, it's too late.

                                          Anyway. Here's an article on another factor in obesity. From the NYT Mag.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Modern

                                            Low-fat diets have been pretty much discredited.

                                            If you want to lose weight and stay healthy, you want to eat a balanced diet with a significant percentage of the calories coming from healthy fats. Check out the Harvard School of Public Health's "Healthy Eating Pyramid":


                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              I second that! Wholeheartedly! Same goes for low carb diets.

                                              Those diets with rules and phases are bunk. There is one phase of healthy weight-maintaining diet...that is moderation and healthy portions accopanied by physical activity.

                                              No magic, no rules.


                                          2. I think cultural variances also contribute. The French drink a lot more wine per capita (Hi cal) but eat smaller, more frequent meals - the Italians also drink more wine, eat pasta, yet both cultures tend to have lower body fat.
                                            In Britain (my birth country) after WWII, there were so many food shortages, families (my Mom) had to learn creative ways to serve vegetables, rather than meat. So now we have the addition of "education" as well as cultural, and economics to add to our obesity problem.
                                            We can't change our genes, but we can educate our young 'uns. On a recent visit to my daughter in the south east, I was absolutely flabergasted when my 20 month old grandson asked for a snack, and when Momma offered salad, he went into paroxysms of delight! His fave snacks are green beans, hard-boiled agg whites, salad, grapes etc. Not cookies, chips, chocolate.
                                            And, they are cheaper than chocolate, or potato chips. (But take longer to prepare)
                                            Perhaps we need some radical changes -- not food stamps, but food (healty) itself; education for our young; limit the availability of junk food in schools -- too many things to list.

                                            1. I put the greatest amount of blame for this on our obsession with the automobile! Our suburbs are designed for the convenience of the driver, not the walker or biker. Our refrigerators are huge so that we can make a once-a-week car trip the the (huge) supermarket.

                                              Whenever I've lived in Europe, I've shopped at least every-other day, since the small fridges won't hold more. I walked to and from the store (sometimes a mile each way), just like everyone else.

                                              I'm always astonished when I see chic, thin, German women taking an afternoon pastry break. They consume huge pastries, frequently topped with extra whipped cream. Then they WALK home.

                                              In my town there are many school children who have no safe way to walk to school -- no sidewalks, not enough crossing guards -- so mom or dad drives the littles ones to school.

                                              Another "evil" thing: No Child Left Behind, which has forced many school districts to pour more funds into core academic areas, further cutting gym classes. When I was in high school in Virginia, every student had to take PE every day for four years. My daughter, who graduated from high school a year ago, was required to take PE for one semester!

                                              I think we've been too quick to blame the food industry for this problem. It's part of the problem, but there are many other cultural forces at work here.

                                              13 Replies
                                              1. re: pikawicca

                                                Yeah, I think it's a combination of more (and higher calorie) foods and less activity. Kids used to play outside after school. Now they stay inside with their video games and their computers, a soda and a snack at hand. Adults are over-programmed and overstressed, and eating is a more attractive (although less effective) way of dealing with that than exercising.

                                                Also, I'm shocked at how our culture has changed so that we seem to feel that we have to have food and drink available at all times. That's marketing, pure and simple. We can't walk down the street without being offered some sort of food or drink, usually high calorie and non-nutrative. What did we do before there was a Starbucks on every corner? We drank less coffee (and much less mochafrappalattechino). There are postings on chowhound all the time "what to eat on the plane." Do you really have to eat on the plane? How many domestic flights are longer than the time between lunch and dinner? The main reason airlines serve food is not because people need to eat, but because it gives them something to do. Food has become a cheap, easy way to keep people entertained.

                                                I say this as a person who is unquestionably obese. I love to eat and I hate to exercise (although I do), and I have one of those blasted slow metabolisms combined with a naturally stocky body type. But that doesn't keep me from being horrified by all the obese children and young adults I see and by the fact that my size is more and more often the close to the median in any group I'm in.

                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                  > Also, I'm shocked at how our culture has changed
                                                  > so that we seem to feel that we have to have food
                                                  > and drink available at all times.

                                                  I think you hit the nail on the head. I live in a foreign country and spent a month in the US this summer. I gained five pounds. Not because I pigged out--I had much less satisfying meals in the US than I do back home. I did get less exercise, but wasn't completely sedentary.

                                                  But I really think that it was the lack of discipline that did me in. Where I live (Spain) there is a very strict set of cultural norms about when, where and how you eat. Everyone does everything at the same time--it's a communal experience. It really requires a special effort to live here and overdo things.

                                                  When we first landed in the US, my son got really upset when we went through a drive-through and I told him to eat in the car while we were driving (We were on a roadtrip). He didn't understand why we would do this! In Spain there are no drive throughs. He felt deeply that it was wrong.

                                                  The drink sizes are out of control. Here, I would feel like a freak ordering any more than one of those tiny 8 ounce bottles of coke at one sitting. In the US, you get free refills on a 64 ounce soda! One small cafe con leche in the morning and a shot of espresso in the afternoon--that's all you get here. It's not forbidden to eat on the subway, but you will never, ever see someone doing it. Same goes for out on the street (with the exception of ice cream). There is no dinner for anyone before 9:00 or after 12:00pm. No lunch before 2:00 or after 4:00. The whole society supports moderation and conformity in this respect. I think that our consumeristic, have-everything-all-the-time mentality has really gotten us into trouble.

                                                  1. re: butterfly

                                                    You know, I'm your pretty stereotypical fat American -- and every time I go to Barcelona, I lose ten pounds. In two weeks.

                                                    It's not like I don't eat -- I eat like a pig, and every lunch is three courses and wine, every dinner is tapes or pintxos with cava and then a full, heavy dinner, with more wine.

                                                    Meals just simply AREN'T available at all hours -- lunch is from 2 PM to 4 PM and dinner from 9 PM to midnight, and that's IT. You can always get food, that's not an issue, but it's a sandwich in the morning or a cup of gelat (from Farggi, mmmmm) in the afternoon after siesta.

                                                    The other thing? I have never, ever driven a car in Europe. One takes the metro as close as one can get, and one walks to one's destination. Even on business in Paris, I lost weight, because I was walking everywhere. In Barcelona, which is a lot hillier than it should be given its seaside location, it's even more strenuous.

                                                    There aren't coffee machines or vending machines in office buildings. There aren't vending machines lining the walls (and in places where there are, like Zürich, they tend to be in places like train stations). There's not a lot of street food vending compared to, say, New York, unless you're there on a holiday.

                                                    I also just posted a thread about the ridiculous drink sizes in America. Time was, a cup of coffee was six ounces (about the size of a cafe amb llet), and drinks came in small (eight ounces) or large (twelve ounces) sizes.

                                                    Part of the problem, honestly, is the "clean plate club" rule that so many of us grew up with. If it's on your plate, you have to eat it -- well, this is fine if you're making a meal at home where you control the portions, but it's hard to stop eating that ginormous 1400-calorie plate of pasta at a restaurant.

                                                    "Non es menja fora de l'hora" -- No eating outside of the appointed time.

                                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                      Olive Garden is currently advertising something like "all you can eat pasta": you can choose any combinations of pastas and sauces and eat all you want for something like $9.95! This is disgusting! They'll keep bringing out food until you're so stuffed you barf, I suppose. I can't think of any other country on earth where this could happen.

                                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                        Poco y bueno (poc i bon), that's the motto here.

                                                        Even in places in the provinces where a lot of people drive, they still take a walk (paseo) every evening. It's a huge part of the culture, not just for adults, but for little kids, teenagers, and elderly people, too.

                                                        I wasn't at all overweight, but I also lost ten pounds when I moved to Spain this last time. But I lived without a car in the US for over a decade and got even more exercise than I do here. I think it has more to do with the disciplined way of eating and also the general energy and activity level of going out many times a day.

                                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                          May I venture to guess that it is also the TYPE of food you were eating as well, butterfly? In the US, very few people give a second thought to the difference between processed convenience foods and fresh food. We only think I am hungry NOW and off we go to grab some fast food or a candy bar or a bag of chips. My guess is that in Spain, most of the food you are eating is freshly made from good ingredients. It always puzzled me that Europeans (minus the Brits and Bavarians) were generally thin despite that many Spanish tapas are deep fried, Italians dependence on pasta, and the French love of butter and cheese. But nobody has leftovers there (the doggy bag is a unheard of concept!) and everything is made fresh daily.

                                                          When I lived in Italy, I ate so much gelato and sweets and often sat down to multi-hour meals. But I don't ever remember buying processed food (by that I mean packaged food at a supermarket). Instead, I ventured to the outdoor markets and was able to procure all my ingredients there. It didn't feel like a sacrifice because those fresh ingredients were so good and tasted indulgent, even though they were fresh and healthy. Such great stuff!

                                                          I think an argument can be made for the quantity vs. quality difference. Indulgence in Europe might mean a small but decadently buttery croissant or a small but rich wedge of foie gras or cheese. That sense of feeding a yen is sated by that little shot of richness. But Americans seem to like abundance -- it's less about the tongue and more about the stomach. Fullness is what we seek. (I've seen many Americans chewing and swallowing so fast that they barely taste what's going in their mouths. There's no sense of savoring a flavor.)

                                                          Am I completely off here? (Obviously, take my generalizations as that.)

                                                          1. re: Das Ubergeek


                                                            I'm not really one to eat junk food or bad processed stuff... No candy bars, chips or anything like that. I really didn't think that I was eating all that much. (I was convinced at the end of the trip that my jeans were significantly tighter because they had been run through a dryer--something we don't have in Spain). But the scale told another story.

                                                            The major difference in my intake might have been that I ate much less fruit (it didn't taste good to me anywhere in the US--even when I bought from farmer's markets and fruit stands by the side of the road), beans, and seafood (also didn't taste good). Also, olive oil, the major staple in our diets--we literally go through a liter every couple of weeks--was absent. Oh, and Cheez-its and Triscuits--those where our American indulgences, since we can't really get crackers here...

                                                            Incidentally, the same thing happened to my husband to an even greater extent (he gained at least 8 pounds). He pigged out more than I did on his comfort foods: cuban sandwiches, chifles, guava pastries, waffles, grits, and other things that he missed.

                                                            My son grew two inches and lost weight (and he's too skinny already--sigh). He refused to eat a lot of his usual foods because they tasted bad to him--especially cheese, milk, yogurt, fruit, and eggs. He doesn't like sandwiches, hamburgers, pizza or any of that stuff, so it was a challenge finding food for him to eat. A lot of the time, I just fed him black beans out of a can or canned tuna that I had brought from Spain.

                                                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                              Think of all the money that is spent on all the different weight reduction programs, gym equipment that is gifted at holiday times and now sits in obilivion, and the failed 60 day wonder programs at the fitness centers. How much better and enjoyable would it be if you could take a year or two sabbatical to Europe to trim down stay in hostels and walk? Oh the enjoyment and the memories.

                                                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                I lived in southern Spain, where nearly every meal contained one greasy, deep-fried item. Granted, it was olive oil (or sunflower oil if you were a poor student), but some of this stuff was very rich and heavy.

                                                                It was remarkable to me how different the Americans' (including mine) perception of the everyday Spanish diet was compared to the reality. I arrived in Spain expecting "the Mediterranean diet" of fresh vegetables, cooked in the simplicity of olive oil and garlic, and instead, I ate a lot of San Jacobos (breaded slices of fatty pork, wrapped around slices of full-fat cheese, oozing) and fatty cuts of pork. This experience was mirrored by many of my Spanish friends' and families' eating habits.

                                                                Sure, children and young adults did not appear obese, for the most part. But, I noticed a large percentage of older females were significantly obese. After reviewing some epidemiological data, I found that heart disease was a huge killer among Andalucians, as well as other circulatory system diseases. The rates increased exponentially after age 35. Along with the high rate of tobacco use, I can't imagine the oil and animal fat laden diet *wasn't* a contributing factor to these patterns.

                                                                My point is, I think sometimes the Spanish diet is sometimes exoticized to be "the perfect" diet, yet it's important to consider the reality of how some people really eat there. Sure, I report anecdotally, but I think overall, my experiences do paint somewhat of a picture of modern eating habits in working-class Andalucia.

                                                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                  The Barcelonins eat a much more Mediterranean diet than do the Andaluces... but yes, there's still a lot of deep-fried crap.

                                                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                    Yes, Andalucía is known for its heavier fried food and slower pace of life. But the quantities are still relatively small and usually shared among many people. And health-wise, food fried in olive oil is just not comparable to food fried in other fats--¡no tiene nada que ver!

                                                                    Spain is the second biggest consumer of seafood in the world and the foremost consumer of olive oil. They eat twice as many fruits and vegetables as many other European countries (the UK, for example). And along with France have the lowest incidence of heart disease in Europe. So the the Mediterranean diet really is not a myth... Spain also has a significantly higher life expectancy than the US (a miracle compared to where this figure was during harder times).

                                                                    And kids at a regular working-class public school really do eat the lunches that I described--at least here in Madrid.

                                                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                      The British aren't a good example -- British food is finally crawling out of the long, long period where everything had to be boiled into submission. (American food wasn't much better.)

                                                                      That said, they do eat a *LOT* of olive oil.

                                                                      It's possible to make unhealthy decisions in Spain, like anywhere else, of course. One thing that does prevent massive overeating is that if you order a silly amount of food, people -- including the waitstaff -- will STARE at you.

                                                                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                        something you may want to keep in mind, Prav,: the Spanish have the longest life expectancy in Europe. their meals may be fatty but they are also eating lots of fruits, vegetables and legumes. Also, the meal tends to start with a very hearty vegetable and bean soup, right?

                                                                2. I think the problem starts in childhood which is when most of us develop our tastes for foods and our health and hygiene habits. There is so little emphasis, especially these days, on the importance of regular daily exercise for school kids. There's talk of it, sure, but physical education programs are some of the first programs cut in schools. I'm heartened by the healthy school lunch movement and hope that really takes hold in a HUGE way nationally. Even better is when that is accompanied by cooking programs in grade schools. Give kids an exercise habit and the skills and desire to make and eat good food (that happens to be healthy) and I'll betcha we'd be a MUCH MUCH healthier country in ten or twenty years.

                                                                  It's also no coincidence that high fructose corn syrup has inundated more and more convenience foods in the last 20 or so years. I'm too tired to find the million and a half reports that tie those two things together.

                                                                  I hope this is slightly less offensively political than my previous (and since deleted) post on this subject.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: MollyGee

                                                                    I really agree with you. The food that children are fed in US schools is a national dirty secret. I believe this is the truest reflection of the American diet, not the exceptions-to-the-rule that most of us Chowhounds represent. Even when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, it was horrible. At my elementary school, we were basically fed government surplus slop (at least the kids who didn't bring their lunches were--my mom wouldn't allow us to eat that stuff). What exactly is a sloppy joe, anyway?? I just read an article that a lawmaker (in CT??) wanted to ensure that fluffernutters would be served in the schools (no offense to fluff-lovers intended).

                                                                    If you look at other countries, you'll see that the kids are fed a normal diet. At my son's school, the food is so good that most of the teachers stay to eat with the kids, even though they get a two hour break and could go home or eat out in the neighborhood. They eat paella, squid, roast chicken, lentils, hake, vegetable stew, fabada, garbanzos, soups, etc. And a significant number of kids (at least a third at my son's school) still go home for lunch everday and then go back in the afternoon.

                                                                    There really should be a national outcry in the US to stop feeding kids un-nutritious garbage at school. As I see it, it's practically a form of state-sponsored neglect.

                                                                  2. In What to Eat, Marian Nestle makes two points relevant to this thread. First, the US overproduces food. For every person, 3900 calories of food are produced per day. So we have to consume as much as possible for the food not to be wasted. Second, it has become commonly accepted that people eat everywhere, all the time. She points out that people eat at work, in their cars, while walking outside, in libraries and stores. This is relatively recent, it probably crept in over the last 20 years or so. She adds that this change in culture coincides with the rise in obesity.

                                                                    I don't know how this can be changed other than by learning good nutrition from early childhood. I eat no junk food at all and am not tempted because I grew up pretty much without it. My husband knows every candy bar and fast food treat, and would be the size of a blimp if he didn't have some self-discipline.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: cheryl_h

                                                                      Well, forbidding junk food and soda and the like to children can also ensure that, when they are on their own, that's what they'll eat a lot of. I've seen that dymanic play out many times as well.

                                                                      1. re: Karl S

                                                                        Yes I've seen that too. I don't think we were forbidden, it just didn't exist in my home and in my childhood we didn't eat much that wasn't prepared at home. We got sodas and candy as treats and my mother made desserts occasionally. So we weren't denied, it just wasn't part of the regular diet. I stopped eating candy or drinking soda in my mid-teens. I have Chinese friends who simply never eat sweets of any kind other than fresh fruit, they never had any kind of candy or soda growing up. Consumption of sugar in Asia is one-NINTH what it is in the US.

                                                                        In Supersize Me a nutritionist makes a point that much of what goes into fast food is addictive - caffeine, sugar, salt, fat. So if you eat it regularly, you crave it. They did experiments using the chemical that's used to detox addicts (sorry, don't recall the name). It cuts off the brain response to the stimulant. The craving for fast food simply stopped.

                                                                        I don't know if it's the right way, I just think if people grow up eating well they will have good eating habits for life. That's probably more of a hope than an opinion.

                                                                        1. re: Karl S

                                                                          I don't think soda and junk food should be forbidden, I just think kids should be offered better stuff. What kid is going to want a soda when they can make (and have)homemade lemonade? OK, well, same amount of sugar but it's got some nutritional value (and, how would you say it, a certain "pride of ownership..?)

                                                                          I remember an article (maybe in the SF Chronicle sometime last year) that reviewed a study wherein people were fed fresh popcorn w/ a small amount of butter and people were given stale popcorn w/ artificial butter flavor and the people who got the stale popcorn (it was served in an automatically refilling container, I believe) ate WAY more of it. The tasty popcorn was satisfying, the crappy popcorn was not.

                                                                          I might have missed some of the details of the study, but that's the gist of it.

                                                                      2. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/us/AP...

                                                                        More stats on obesity in kids:
                                                                        - 17% of US children are obese (millions more are overweight
                                                                        )- by 2010, 20% are predicted to be obese
                                                                        - federal government killed funding for VERB, a program intended to encourage kids to exercise