Saturday, June 3, 2006
Those heaping portions at restaurants -- and doggie bags for the leftovers -- may be a thing of the past, if health officials get their way.
The government is trying to enlist the nation's eateries in the fight against obesity.
With hamburgers, french fries and pizza the top three eating-out favorites, restaurants are in a prime position to help improve people's diets, a government-commissioned report said yesterday.
The report, funded by the Food and Drug Administration, lays out ways to help people manage their intake of calories from the growing number of meals prepared away from home, including at the nation's nearly 900,000 restaurants and other establishments that serve food. One of the first things on the list: cutting portion sizes.
"We must take a serious look at the impact these foods are having on our waistlines," said Penelope Royall, director of the health promotion office at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The 134-page report, prepared by the Keystone Center, an education and public policy group based in Colorado, said Americans consume one-third of their daily intake of calories outside the home. And as of 2000, the average American took in 300 more calories a day than 15 years earlier, according to Agriculture Department statistics cited in the report.
Today, 64 percent of Americans are overweight, including the 30 percent who are obese, the report said. It pegged the annual medical cost of the problem at nearly $93 billion. Consumer advocates increasingly have heaped some of the blame on restaurant chains such as McDon ald's, which bristle at the criticism while offering more salads and fruit. The report does not explicitly link dining out with the rising tide of obesity, but it does cite numerous studies that suggest there is a connection.
The National Restaurant Association said the report, which it helped prepare but does not support, unfairly targeted its industry.
The report encourages restaurants to shift the emphasis of their marketing to lower-calorie choices and include more such options on menus. In addition, restaurants could adjust portion sizes and the variety of foods available in mixed dishes to cut calories.
Bundling meals with more fruits and vegetables could help. And letting consumers know how many calories are in a meal also could guide the choices they make, according to the report.