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Americans Finally Getting the Message

Americans may finally be getting the message about eating right. A new study finds that after years of gaining weight, Americans actually shed pounds last year and made healthier food choices.

"We are losing weight as a country; I've never seen that," said Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group, a market research firm based in Port Washington, N.Y., that tracks consumer trends in everything from food to toys.

Fifty-five percent of Americans were overweight in 2003, down from 56 percent the year before, the group found in its 18th Annual Eating Patterns in America report published recently. The results were determined using the government's Body Mass Index (BMI), a ratio of height to weight that is a better measure than weight alone.

It's About Health, Not What the Scale Says

The NPD study found that Americans were less obsessed with losing 20 pounds—the mantra of the 1990's—than with eating well. The number of people who said they carefully planned their meals to be nutritious rose three percent while the number of Americans reporting that they were exercising strenuously also ticked up three percent.

"People are interested in a balanced diet; they ate more fruits and vegetables last year than the year before and snacked less in the evening," explained Balzer. "People are more concerned about fat, cholesterol, sugar, and additives in their diets than they have been."

The findings mirror the results of a FoodFit Diet & Fitness Plan poll conducted this summer. Half of those surveyed said they were eating more fruits and vegetables and 34 percent said they were making different snack choices.

Plus, the poll found that 36 percent of those surveyed were working out more frequently, 33 percent were trying out different types of exercise and 11 percent were working out longer. Find out more about the Plan and how the comprehensive Diet and Fitness Plan (link to sign up) can help you.

The Battle of the Bulge Continues

The weighty news will be music to the ears of health care workers and government officials who have increasingly been warning about the bulging national waistline. Obesity has risen at an epidemic rate in the United States in the past 20 years. Today, more than half of American adults and 13 percent of the nation's children and teens are overweight, according to government statistics.

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease and certain cancers, as well as Type II diabetes, arthritis, breathing problems and depression. An estimated 300,000 deaths each year in the United States are associated with obesity and the economic cost was pegged at about $117 billion in 2000.

The government has taken numerous steps to raise public consciousness about healthy eating and the risks of obesity. Most recently, the Food and Drug Administration announced that food makers would be required to indicate on the nutrition facts label if their product contains artery-clogging trans fatty acids. And on Capitol Hill, lawmakers introduced legislation to encourage better nutrition and more physical activity, particularly among children.

The NPD group said there were more changes in last year's eating trends than ever before. "Maybe it's that the healthful things that have been promoted over the years are finally having an impact,' said Balzer. "The question is which trends are the beginning of a new direction and which are short-term disruptions."

— Leila Corcoran

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