Monday, October 3, 2011

We talk healthy, then eat our words

An Associated Press article this morning starts this way: Americans talk skinny but eat fat.

The article goes on to say that despite first lady Michelle Obama's crusade to slim down our overweight country, most people still order burgers and fries over more healthy choices. According to a survey last year by food-research firm Technomic, 47 percent of Americans say they want healthier menu options, but only 23 percent order those foods. In other words, a lot of us are hypocrites.

My first reaction is that I'm not surprised. We are an unhealthy country that is generally in denial of that fact. But there's a critical bit of information missing, which is how often these polled Americans eat out.

I'm not a health nut, but I choose fruits and veges over chips, and I exercise regularly. I try to maintain a healthy weight. My body mass index fluctuates between 20 and 21. But when I go out to eat, I never get the salad or the boiled chicken with rice. If the menu includes a big, juicy bacon cheeseburger with fries on the side, I'll probably order it. I eat out about once a month, though, so this is not a regular meal for me; it's a treat.

I'd like to think that's the case for most people. Especially in this economy, who can afford to eat at a restaurant or order fast food every day? Most people's problems probably surface when they eat junk food at home, too - when it's not a treat but a major part of their diet. When given a choice between, say, yogurt or a few handfuls of potato chips, they go for the chips.

Menu choices at restaurants are a problem. KFC's popular Double Down sandwich - bacon and cheese slapped between two pieces of fried chicken - has 610 calories and 37 grams of fat. Hardee's Thickburger has a gut-busting 1,170 calories and 83 grams of fat. But restaurants are not the only problem. Before we point too many fingers, let's all take a look at what's in the pantry and the fridge, too.


Grayson said...

Good point on the frequency of eating out, Jennifer. Here in the Netherlands, people generally eat out less frequently than in the US. Another difference that goes a long way, I think, is that portion sizes aren't ungodly huge here. (McDonald's is McDonald's, but it's not as big over here as in the US.)

I have taken umbrage for years at Europeans' comments about "fat Americans." Then I visited the States in August, for the first time in five years, and I was shocked. I'm 5'3" and about 120 pounds--a healthy weight, BMI around 22, but not unusually skinny by any means--and I was BY FAR the thinnest person I saw that week. There may have been one or two others in a restaurant or Wal Mart or whatever, but my global experience was that of being the only skinny person in a sea of overweight ones. It was humbling (guess I'll have to take back all that umbrage), and shocking.

Now, I don't care whether someone's skinny or overweight or blonde or dark-skinned or gay or any other thing; I care what's inside. But when a culture is collectively overweight, there's something amiss, because that isn't natural human variety anymore. That's too much food, too often, as a cultural norm.

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks said...

Hi Grayson. I'm with you in that I don't particularly care about an individual person's weight or any other physical factor. Personality is much more important. However, this country does have a problem that is only getting worse. It's difficult to ignore.

I take it from your comments that the problem of obesity is not as bad in Europe? It sounds like you are of a healthy BMI. Congrats. :)

Grayson said...

No, obesity isn't nearly as rampant here--in the Netherlands, at any rate. I never noticed the difference before, but it seems five years away from my native country was enough to highlight it. And I now agree: the US has a collectively problematic relationship to food.

How's your Q4 entry going, by the way? I've yet to start mine, but that's pretty much par for the course. :-)

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks said...

My Q4 story is in, seeing as that quarter is now done. :) I'm almost finished with the first draft for Q1 and I'm really happy with it, which probably means my first readers will hate it. I'm a horrible judge of my own work.

Grayson said...

Oh, pfft, of course, I meant Q1. :-) My Q4 entry was a last-day existing-story upload of something I don't expect to make it past rejection (spec element is not truly evident until page 8), but it was what I had. So I guess I kind of feel like I haven't entered Q4 yet. ;-)