Reducing "Globesity" Begins at HomeSixty-four percent of Americans are overweight or obese, but the rest of the world is gaining fast. French women do get fat, despite Mireille Guiliano's best-selling book that claims the opposite; 42 percent of the French are far from fashionably slim. In China, meanwhile, 20 percent of women and 15 percent of men are overweight. No wonder the World Health Organization (WHO) calls this epidemic "globesity."
Perhaps most alarming is the rapid gain seen in children. Today, over 15 percent of U.S. children 6-11 years old are overweight, compared with 4 percent in the 1960s. In France, numbers of heavy-to-obese children are growing at 17 percent a year, versus 6 percent for adults. This puts the young at risk of weight-related cardiovascular disease, higher cholesterol and blood pressure, and type 2 ("adult onset") diabetes.
The response is simple, but not always easy: we need to burn at least as many calories as we take in. The two main obstacles, as documented by Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation and Greg Critser in Fatlands, are a sedentary lifestyle-encouraged by television, car dependence, and lack of safe spaces for exercising-and cheap, fast, and highly processed foods, which are rich in fats and refined sugars. (And the hub of an agribusiness system that also despoils our environment: fast food's demand for uniform French fries has spurred the monocropping of a single variety of potato, heavy on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and factory chicken, hog, and beef farms pollute our waterways with manure.)
The good news is that people are taking action. Globesity-defeating steps include the following:
Eat lots of produce. Fall is the harvest season, so shop at farm stands and farmers markets for plentiful, affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce is low-calorie and high in vitamins and fiber, which is filling and discourages overeating. A new French government initiative promotes 5-10 servings of produce a day. Environmental plus: you support farmers and help save farmland, and local foods require less pesticides and less fossil fuel for transport. Choose organic to help keep soil fertile, protect watersheds, preserve habitat, and avoid genetically engineered foods.
Eat whole foods and drinks. U.S. nutritional guidelines recommend at least 85 grams a day of fiber-rich whole grains-typically absent from white bread, potato chips, and other refined carbohydrates. Processed cakes, cookies, and fried foods are high in trans-fatty acids, which raise the risk of heart disease. Also common are added sugars like high-fructose corn syrup, which dominates sodas and other sweetened drinks and raises blood triglyceride levels. The WHO says added sugars should make up no more than 10 percent of daily calories. As for trans fats, aim for "as close to zero grams as you can get," says Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University.
Eat less meat and choose lean. Keep saturated fat, prevalent in red meat and cheese, to 10 percent or less of total calories. Less meat also reduces your exposure to toxic chemicals that collect in animal fats, such as dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Eat non- or low-fat dairy products. Studies show that diets high in dairy can promote weight loss, particularly loss of dangerous abdominal fat.
Eat out (and take out) less. Restaurant foods contain more fats and sugars than home-cooked foods, and portions tend to be larger.
Read labels. "Partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil" means trans fats. Look out for saturated fat, high-fructose corn syrup, total calories, and portion size as well. Choose restaurants that disclose fats and calories.
Exercise. Walk 11 kilometers a week on errands for which you normally drive, and you'll help reduce smog and keep 187 kilograms of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Limit television time. And explain to your kids how ads are not the same as programs, but rather aimed at selling.
Work with your child's institutions. Encourage schools and camps to provide daily exercise, fresh whole foods, water, and milk, and to can the candy, chips, and sodas.
See www.thegreenguide.com for product reports on meat, eggs, and a variety of other food types.
Mindy Pennybacker is editor of The Green Guide, published by The Green Guide Institute (www.thegreenguide.com), which provides the research for this department.