As America’s waistline grew, the nation’s eating habits continued to worsen. In previous decades, statistics reflected a trend that showed a larger number of overweight and obese people in the population, which coincided with increasing instances of chronic weight-related illnesses. The nation’s people, and its weight problem, continued to bulge, balloon and bloat.
Scientific research and public health campaigns have worked together to send a message that illustrated the need for a shift. Health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer spread like wildfire. But research shows that people are finally beginning to make a change.
The federal government began to track the eating habits of American adults and children about 40 years ago. From the mid-1970s to 2003, calorie consumption continually rose before hitting its highest point. But in recent years, the amount of calories consumed has begun a solid decline.
The Push for Progress
The 1999 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was a turning point for many experts and average Americans. Published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the study included a visual depiction of the worsening obesity rates in all 50 states in the 1980s and 1990s. Experts were shocked.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Ali Mokdad, published another paper a year later that illustrated a correlation between the rising obesity rate and the amount of people diagnosed with diabetes.
In 2001, surgeon general Dr. David Satcher followed suit and published a report referred to as the Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity. The report was a stark warning that obese individuals were at risk of developing chronic illnesses, and that children should be a particular focus of parents working on reducing obesity.
Satcher’s report mirrored the famous 1964 surgeon general’s report on tobacco. After this report was released, dealing with obesity was no longer left on the backburner. It became a major priority.
In 2010, the Obama administration passed the The Affordable Care Act, which required chain restaurants to publish the calorie content of their menu. Shortly after, making school lunches healthier became one of the first lady’s primary projects.
How Have American Diets Changed?
Most Americans, especially children, have begun to cut out sugary sodas and soft drinks. The average amount of full-calorie sodas consumed in 1998 was 40 gallons, and it has since dropped to 30 gallons in 2014. The amount of calories children consume has dropped by 9 percent.
Public health campaigns have been targeted at these kinds of beverages, which proves that people are actually getting the message. Beverage companies are even working on changing their inventory, now focusing on producing and marketing diet drinks, flavored waters and iced teas.
Americans are eating smaller portions and consuming a little bit less of various food and drink items than was previously reported. But there has yet to be an overall shift in the kinds of foods that Americans are eating. Fast food and dessert consumption remains high, and the amount of people who shop at farmers markets for fruits and vegetables remains low.
Statistics show that a broad effort to reduce their calorie consumption is being made, and changes are noticeable across different social classes and ethnic groups. However, white families have reportedly made the most progress in comparison to black and hispanic families. Additionally, households with children have cutback on calories more than homes with only adult residents. The emphasis on reducing childhood obesity may be the reason for this trend.
Although diets are changing across different demographics of age, class and ethnicity, the trend has not yet hit the heaviest of Americans. Obese Americans continue to experience a rising weight and waist circumference.
Kevin Hall, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, estimated that an average adult would need to reduce calorie consumption by 220 calories a day to return to the average body size in 1978 by 2020. Unfortunately, the current changes only meet a fraction of the goal.
Today, more than a third of Americans are still obese. Researchers will continue to publish information about healthy eating habits, and public health officials won’t stop fighting for a better food-focused future.
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