How can we control obesity?

September 24, 2009

America’s eating patterns are leading us to tipping scales, astronomical health care costs due to diet-related health conditions, and a countless number of ‘intangibles’ related to obesity.

America’s eating patterns are leading us to tipping scales, astronomical health care costs due to diet-related health conditions, and a countless number of ‘intangibles’ related to obesity. In an attempt to create yet another strategy to tackle the swell, Amber Waves, a publication of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS), reported on specific data, believed fundamental in understanding and creating policy to effectively tackle obesity: Eating patterns.  
The study defined eating patterns to include, “not only what and how much people eat, but also when and where they eat, how long they spend eating or snacking, and whether they dine alone or with others.” And in an attempt to limit bias, each subject was interviewed about their use of time, focusing on food and drink intake and activity, for the 24-hour period prior to the interview. If they were engaged in more than one activity at a time, respondents were asked to identify their primary activity. The results compared food and drink consumption as either a primary or secondary activity. 
This is no surprise as we have long touted the concept that it is the EXTERNAL forces (vs. the foods) that are the culprit.
On average, Americans aged 15 and older reported spending 67 minutes per day eating and/or drinking as their primary activity and an average of 16 and 42 minutes eating and/or drinking (except plain water) respectively as secondary activities; such as while working, watching TV, or playing sports. Approximately 66% of primary eating or drinking was with family or others as opposed to secondary eating or drinking which more than half of the time was done alone while engaged in another activity.  
Four percent reported spending no time in primary eating or drinking during an average day but did spend an average of 35 and 107 minutes in secondary eating and drinking respectively. At the opposite end of the spectrum, eight percent of respondents, referred to as "constant grazers," spent an unusually long time - 4.5 hours (or more) - eating or drinking each day; the majority was spent in secondary drinking or sipping of beverages. 
The survey also compared BMI to eating patterns and found no significant links or differences. Except for the fact that those considered underweight spent more time drinking while engaged in other activities, than the other BMI groups.  
The ERS has acknowledged the need for more research in order to better understand food consumption nuances (time patterns, eating as a primary or secondary activity etc.) and how they relate to BMI. There is certainly a need for a better understanding of this epidemic as the effectiveness of current USDA public health interventions are questionable at best, i.e. the “MyPyramid” program. Remember the Trust for America’s Health report, “F as in Fat” published back in July, that found increased obesity rates in 23 states, as well as an increase in weight related, Type 2 Diabetes in 19 states over the past year? It’s definitely about time the US puts a halt to this dangerous expansion as we can hardly argue that we don’t have the adequate resources.  
The data reported on above was collected in The Eating & Health Module of the American Time Use Survey, part of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey that began in 2003.  Funding for this research was provided by the ERS and National Cancer Institute.