US takes major steps forward in the battle against obesity

Related tags Obesity

The rising obesity epidemic has seen the United States adopt a
multipronged strategy in the war on obesity. In a country where
obesity-related US medical costs reached $75 billion in 2003,
Americans are gradually accepting the fact that they are literally
eating themselves to an early grave, suggests new research.

McDonald's decision to phase out its 'supersize' servings was seen as an industry wake-up call. US Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson unveiled a series of ads designed to urge Americans to shed some pounds and a decision by the House of Representatives voted to ban obesity-related lawsuits against the food industry. The drive is on to hold the individual responsible for their actions.

A recent study revealed the American consumer was open to help in dealing with obesity. An overwhelming 90 per cent of those questioned said that they, not the food industry, are to blame for what they eat and drink.

The poll conducted by Context Marketing also revealed 77 per cent did not think food and beverage companies should be held legally responsible for making Americans overweight. The findings dispute the widely held view that the obesity epidemic has been fuelled by the food and beverage industry.

A new survey now seems to support this opinion. Detailed responses given by their overweight subjects held revealing dichotomies in attitudes and behaviors.

In general the average American was more likely to blame lack of exercise rather than overeating or poor food choices for their excess pounds. Forty-four per cent attributed their weight problem to lack of exercise, 23 per cent cited the quantity of food they eat, 17 per cent cited poor nutritional habits, and 16 per cent blamed their weight issues on genes and heredity.

The survey, conducted by communications agency Euro RSCG, consisted of a random sample of 1,162 American adults to explore their attitudes and behaviors regarding eating, health, and exercise.

The survey highlighted those responses to eating habits and the answers revealed a marked difference in those who were overweight and those who were not.

People who considered themselves extremely overweight ate at fast food, local, and casual dining restaurants more often (on average 11 times a month versus seven times for the non-obese).

Extremely overweight people were also more likely to indicate their families were getting too much of one food group (i.e, fats, proteins or carbohydrates) compared with people who do not consider themselves to be significantly overweight.

Marian Salzman, chief strategy officer of Euro RSCG Worldwide and one of the architects of the study, said: "One of the important findings of our survey is that people who are obese are cognizant of the fact that they make poor food choices, in terms of both quantity and quality."

"This would suggest that the government campaign to encourage better food choices and more exercise might not fall entirely on deaf ears. Seventeen per cent of all deaths in the US each year are due to diet and lack of physical activity. This might provide the motivation some people need to start making healthier choices."

The US weight loss market - seen by the obese as one, if not the only, solution - is valued by Marketdata Enterprises to be worth over $39 billion, and is already loaded with low-fat and low-cal products such as diet soft drinks, artificial sweeteners and OTC meal replacements and diet pills to encourage healthier lifestyles.

According to, sales of diet pills and related supplements have been increasing 10 to 20 per cent a year since 1997. Despite the healthy sales figures the problem of obesity still continues.

The opportunity exists for companies to respond to consumers both in terms of the products offered and education on how to enjoy those products in a healthy diet. Over the next few years new product development will be key to market share in the US weight loss market.

Schuyler Brown, associate director of Euro RSCG's strategic trendspotting and research initiative, commented: "The medical community - and product manufacturers of everything from clothes and furniture to automobiles - need to be ready."

"The question is whether adults will step in and implement measures to reduce obesity or whether our next generation of adults is going to make today's problem of obesity seem mild by comparison."

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