Weight Loss – What isn’t Working
Jan 15, 2012 - 11:53:12 AM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - In the past 10 years Americans have gained more than 1 billion pounds – 68% of all adults are now overweight. The extra weight we are carrying is putting a drain on our healthcare system, increasing the risk for diabetes and heart disease, and shortening lives. Everyone is scrambling to find solutions to the problem. Many things have been tried and some efforts simply don’t work.
Americans have gotten the concept of super-sizing and portion sizes have actually declined in recent years. New York City has a subway add campaign that addresses cutting portions. One poster says, “Cut your portions. Cut your risks.”
But, people are still gaining weight because adults now eat, on average, nearly five times each day, up from 3.8 times a day in 1977. The top 10% of those surveyed ate 7 times a day. So we may be eating smaller portions but overall we are eating more every day. It’s estimated that we eat 570 calories more each day than we did in the late 1970s. With this daily calorie add-on, it won’t take long to start putting on pounds. And, if you try to cut calories to lose weight, the cuts will need to be deeper to be effective. Today in the US fewer people are sitting down to three meals a day. Instead they think about and eat all day long.
Many health advocates believe that posting calorie and nutrition information at point-of-purchase will positively influence meal choices. Sadly, the evidence suggests otherwise. When calorie information is printed on the food receipt, most consumers ignore the information. They’ve already made their choice and paid for it. The additional information is too late or simply makes them feel guilty so they ignore it. Others say they never saw the information because they discard receipts.
A recent study looked at two university canteens where students were surveyed before and after nutrition information was posted. Despite the available nutrition information the meal choices did not change and the nutrient profile of the meals did not improve. Meal choices were driven by availability of foods not the nutrition information.
A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine this last summer looked at the access to supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods. Many experts argue that the lack of access to healthy food is the driver of obesity among the poor. But the new research, which tracked thousands of people, found people did not eat more fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods simply because they were available. Encouraging grocery chains to open in deprived areas did not fix the problem.
Grocery stores stock many choices, some good and some not so good. Simply shopping at a supermarket does not automatically translate into healthier eating. Often the cheapest calories come from chips and soda. Prepackaged, prepared foods are easy to heat and eat. Fresh produce, especially vegetables, don’t come with instructions and can be more costly per calorie. For a family with a limited food budget and limited cooking skills, easy-to-heat-and-eat often gets the nod.
Some cities and counties have toyed with the idea of instituting a soda tax, making sweetened drinks more expensive. The theory is the tax should curtail sales and encourage healthy drinks, like milk and juice, which are not taxed. Good idea, but it doesn’t work for a number of reasons.
Tax is added at point-of-purchase and many consumers don’t consider this add-on when purchasing any item, including food. Most soda taxes are aimed at presweetened beverages like soda, fruit drinks, iced tea, and coffee drinks. In reality only 50% of people drink presweetened drinks, the other 50% routinely drink diet beverages which are usually exempt from the tax. And, the heavier a person is, the more likely they are to drink diet beverages. This could mean that the intended audience is missed by the soda tax and those who are not heavy may wind up paying the tax.
Some very important points, not normally discussed when a new tax is implemented – where will the soda tax dollars go? Will the tax be repealed if it does not get results after a given period of time? If the soda tax dollars were specifically earmarked for public health programs to encourage people to make healthier food choices, it could have merit. But, the more likely scenario is that any new tax collected with go into the general fund needed to run a city or county. And, when was the last time a tax, even a useless one, was ever repealed? More likely, once instituted, the soda tax would be here to stay.
A study published this month in Health Affairs showed through math modeling, that a 20% tax on sugar-sweetened drinks could cut obesity by 1.5% and diabetes by 2.5%. Though these reductions are small, on a public health scale they would have a positive impact on the population. The problem with this study is it was based on a mountain of assumptions that may not prove true in a real-life situation. To date, 11 states have tried and failed to pass a soda tax.
What does this all mean to our continual war against weight gain? It points out that our eating environment is complex and the drivers that manipulate consumption are varied and may not always be obvious. We need a combination of interventions that will generate meaningful change in food choices. And, the interventions may need to be targeted to specific groups and populations and change as time goes on. Taxes and regulations rarely change once instituted, but public health policies and programs can be adapted and modified over time. Good advice may still be the best approach to healthy eating.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.
The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012
The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011
The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011
The Calorie Counter, 5th Ed., 2010
The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010
The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009
The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008
The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008
Your Complete Food Counter App: YourCompleteFoodCounter
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: TheNutritionExperts
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