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Obese America in a Diet Daze
Poll Shows People Aren't Trying to Lose Weight
By Claudine Chamberlain
N E W Y O R K — Americans are fat and just too confused to do anything about it.
More than three-quarters of obese and overweight people queried in a new poll admitted they weren't trying to lose weight by dieting. That's a disturbing fact, says Dr. C. Everett Koop, the former U.S. Surgeon General who fought tobacco companies for years and now crusades for fitness. He attributes the trend to widespread "anti-diet sentiment."
Shape Up America!, the fat-fighting campaign that Koop launched in 1994, released the poll results Thursday. Pollsters also found that even among people with the highest risk of developing obesity-related health problems — like diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer — only 37 percent are changing their eating habits in an effort to lose weight.
"I don't know if Americans have given up," says Judith Stern, a nutrition professor and adviser to Shape Up America!, "or if we're just at a time in our history where bigger is better. Portions in restaurants are just too big."
The new poll shows a reversal from the trends of just five years ago, Stern says, when the majority of overweight people were trying to slim down.
The survey, conducted by Louis Harris & Associates, identified public confusion as the main obstacle that prevents people from dieting. Many of those polled didn't know the best ways to cut back on calories, a finding that proved true across all education levels.
But Rebecca Wer, of the California-based Obesity Treatment Center, says other factors can explain a reluctance to diet. For one, most overweight people have gone through years of yo-yo dieting — weight loss followed by weight gain — and simply don't think they'll ever be able to keep the pounds off for good. "People throw in the towel and think, 'I'm just meant to be this way and there's nothing I can do about it,'" she says.
Surf to Shed Pounds
The Louis Harris survey didn't ask overweight people whether or not they had Internet access, but those who do can take advantage of a new tool to help fight the battle of the bulge. Against the backdrop of the obesity survey, Shape Up America! announced the launch of a new feature, called CYBERKitchen, on its Web site.
CYBERKitchen users can type in their height, weight and activity level, and a calculator will total up the number of calories they should eat each day to lose, gain or maintain their weight. Once that's done, the CYBERKitchen helps plan menus that adds up to the right number, and even offers recipes and compiles a shopping list. Vegetarian and low-budget items are in there, too.
The site also acts as a counselor for the overeater. If you have a hankering for a cheese omelet, for instance, and you try to go over your limit, CYBERKitchen will tell you to either choose something else or exercise more to make up for the splurge.
More than 40 groups support the Shape Up America! campaign. Almost all are health or activity-related, such as the American Cancer Society and the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, with one exception: the National Cattlemen's Beef Association