Published on: July 27, 2015by Kevin Coupe
The New York Times yesterday reported that "calories consumed daily by the typical American adult, which peaked around 2003, are in the midst of their first sustained decline since federal statistics began to track the subject, more than 40 years ago. The number of calories that the average American child takes in daily has fallen even more — by at least 9 percent."
The drop is said to be across pretty much all demographic groups, though the percentages do vary a bit, but the result is clear - adult obesity rates in the US actually have begun to level off, and childhood obesity rates have begun to go down.
The Times goes on to write that "in the most striking shift, the amount of full-calorie soda drunk by the average American has dropped 25 percent since the late 1990s."
Here are three passages from the story that I found particularly interesting:
• "The encouraging data does not mean an end to the obesity epidemic: More than a third of American adults are still considered obese, putting them at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Americans are still eating far too few fruits and vegetables and far too much junk food, even if they are eating somewhat less of it, experts say."
• "By 2003, 60 percent of Americans said they wanted to lose weight, according to Gallup, up from 52 percent in 1990 and 35 percent in the 1950s.
"The Obama administration has increased pressure. The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, required chain restaurants to publish the calorie content of their meals. The federal government has also changed requirements, making school lunches healthier, although the effort has created some backlash.
"Several cities have gone further. Philadelphia subsidizes produce purchases for the poor. New York limits the kind of food available in day care centers. Berkeley, Calif., last year became the first city in the United States to tax sugar-sweetened beverages. The evidence for the effectiveness of these interventions is mixed, but their popularity reflects public health officials’ emphasis on diet and obesity.
"Still, the timeline of the calorie declines suggests that people started eating a little less before policy makers got involved. That follows the pattern for tobacco use, which peaked right around the time of the 1964 surgeon general’s report. The policy changes that many credit with the country’s sharp reductions in smoking — advertising bans, warning labels, taxes and restrictions on smoking in public — came later, accelerating change after attitudes had already begun to shift."
• "The recent calorie reductions appear to be good news, but they, alone, will not be enough to reverse the obesity epidemic. A paper by Kevin Hall, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, estimated that for Americans to return to the body weights of 1978 by 2020, an average adult would need to reduce calorie consumption by 220 calories a day. The recent reductions represent just a fraction of that change."
Beyond the fact that this trend, if it continues, could eventually have an impact on the food sold in this country, I'd like to think it also speaks to two different things.
One is that it is encouraging that even before any public policy steps were taken in this regard, more people were recognizing the need to improve their diets and be smarter about what they eat, even if that only means moderation.
But I think the other is that there is a role for public policy in the obesity debate, especially when it comes to kids. There have been plenty of people - many of them in the military and national security apparatus - who have said that childhood obesity put the nation at long-term risk. I tend to believe them.
This shift in habits is an Eye-Opener. Hopefully, the shift continues.
- KC's View: