Reality weighing down progress?

by Eric Schroeder
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A new survey suggests government efforts such as the recently released guidance on federal menu labeling requirements from the Food and Drug Administration may be falling on deaf ears. According to a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll many of those surveyed felt they were normal size.

Unfortunately, in terms of body mass index (B.M.I.), many of those surveyed were wrong.

The survey, conducted on-line Aug. 17-19 with 2,418 adults ages 18 and older, revealed that 30% of overweight people think they’re actually normal size, 70% of obese people feel they are merely overweight, and 39% of morbidly obese people think they are overweight but not obese. The results come in the wake of data released earlier this spring by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showing obesity rates climbing in more than half of the states in the nation.

The findings further illustrate the challenges facing government efforts such as Let’s Move! that set out to educate people on the importance of eating right and exercising in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle.

“While there are some people who have body images in line with their actual B.M.I., for many people they are not, and this may be where part of the problem lies,” said Regina Corso, vice-president of Harris Poll Solutions, Norwalk, Conn. “If they do not recognize the problem or don’t recognize the severity of the problem, they are less likely to do something about it.”

Getting people to “do something about it” is exactly what the F.D.A. has in mind as it moves forward in its effort to establish federal menu labeling requirements. By requiring calorie, fat, sodium, sugar and other nutrition information at various points of sale the government aims to curb the obesity trend by encouraging people to look at the label.

In its preliminary guidance issued late last month, the F.D.A. for the first time said the scope of the labeling law may extend beyond restaurants to include movie theaters, sidewalk carts, airlines, trains and grocery store food courts that qualify as a “chain” with 20 or more locations. Within grocery stores, the F.D.A. said it is seeking comment on whether to include in-store bakeries, salad bars, pizza bars or delicatessens as part of the law.

“One of the most important things we can do when it comes to the nation’s health is to provide simple basic information to the American people so they can make choices that are best for them and their family,” said Margaret Hamburg, M.D., commissioner of the F.D.A. “The menu labeling program will help Americans get the facts about food choices that are available to them in restaurants and vending machines so they know what is in the food and can make healthier selections.”

The Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll also was noteworthy in its finding that those who felt they were heavier than they should be don’t necessarily feel it’s because of the food they eat. Instead, 52% of overweight people, 75% of obese people and 75% of morbidly obese people said they did not exercise enough. By comparison, 36% of overweight respondents, 48% of obese people and 27% of morbidly obese people felt they ate more than they “should in general.”

“In the mindset of most Americans, they’re not looking at this as a food problem as much as an exercise problem,” Ms. Corso said.

University grant to establish obesity center

ANN ARBOR, MICH. — The University of Michigan has received a $5.7 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to establish the Michigan Nutrition Obesity Research Center. Once completed, the facility will be one of 13 federally-funded centers that focus on diet and metabolism.

“The focus of the center is to support research that will provide new insights into how dietary intake, both the quantity and quality, affects an individual’s metabolism,” said Charles Burant, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan and the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Professor of Metabolism. “We hope that this will allow us to identify new ways to modify dietary intake to encourage weight loss in overweight individuals or improve metabolic health to prevent chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.”

Dr. Burant will serve as director of the new center. Karen E. Peterson, professor of environmental health sciences and director of the Human Nutrition Program at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, will serve as co-director.

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