By Susan Schneider, NurseZone contributor
An Obsession or a Passion?
Americans like to eat. And it's showing in the rise of obesity across the country.
A study released in December in the Journal of American Medicine found more than one in five American adults could be classified as obese in 2001.
It's not hard to figure out how this happened. There are restaurants on almost every street corner. From fast food chains to ethnic 'mom and pop' homestyle eateries to white linen dining establishments, a diversity of meals at every price level is easy to find.
p>"Take-out" food has gone way beyond burgers and fries. Its popularity and the types of meals that can be purchased for home consumption have grown so much in recent years the restaurant industry has renamed it the "home meal replacement" sector. It is expected to continue as the fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry in years to come.
Supermarkets have grown too, providing not just aisles and aisles of ingredients and foodstuffs from around the world, but ready-made meals too. In-store bakeries, butchers, deli departments, buffet counters and cafeteria style offerings vie for consumers' attention.
Most big supermarkets provide home delivery. Phoning in orders or sending them via the Internet make keeping a stocked cupboard easier than ever. Place an order while having your morning coffee and have lunch supplies delivered by noon.
Americans love affair with food has also fueled the growth of food-focused Web sites, television shows and magazines.
A few strokes of the keyboard can result in a download of free recipes, home deliveries from purveyors around the world, nutrition facts, advice from gourmet chefs and chat rooms filled with 'foodies' sharing tips, recipes and resources. Full color photos stimulate the desire to consume, or at least create.
The cable Food Channel provides around the clock broadcasting. Programs cover everything from designing the perfect kitchen to poaching a salmon to cooking competitions featuring flamboyant Japanese chefs.
"I put on 10 pounds in my first six months because you have so much great junk food. So much stuff that we have never seen and so available. At work there are always donuts and the like just sitting there so of course you have to give them a go. It took me a long time to learn to cut back and just try a small amount not the huge things. I felt like I had come from the 'depression era' and had to eat everything just because it was there!" -- Melinda Davies, RN, native of Australia who currently lives in Denver, Colorado
Food magazines offer how-tos ranging from sneaking nutritious snacks into a child's lunchbox to growing herb gardens indoors.
Cookbooks are always among the best sellers. Some of the oldest American favorites such as The Joy of Cooking continue to be mainstays for beginners and experienced cooks.
Restrauteurs and chefs enjoy celebrity status. Wolfgang Puck, Emeril, Nigella Lawson, Martha Stewart, Charlie Trotter, Alaine Ducasse and of course, Julia Child are among just a few of the many food experts Americans revere.
Whereas cooking and other food-related topics were once primarily a woman's domain, men and women in the United States now share a passion for good food and take responsibility for finding or creating it. Party talk and water cooler chatter often revolve around good and bad dining experiences.
The Land of Plenty of Reasons
Why the passion for all things food? Is it all about gluttony and self-indulgence?
Hardly. America has always been a land that celebrates its bounty as well as its entrepreneurs. From the days of the country's founding fathers, immigrants have opened venues of all sorts to provide foods from home in their adopted country.
The food and restaurant industries are filled with creative people who relish satisfying the cravings of an increasingly diverse population. Owning a restaurant or grocery store is a common American dream that combines the business-minded recognition that people "have to eat" with the optimistic admonition to "eat, drink and be merry."
There are other reasons food is more than a necessity here:
- Consumers consider a stocked larder as a measure of achievement as well as security.
- A fine dining experience and the discovery of a great new restaurant are as much a status symbol as a new car.
- "Nesting" or entertaining in the home have been on the rise since Sept. 11, 2001, because commitment to family and friends has been reinforced.
- Americans have an adventurous spirit, which extends to trying new foods and flavors.
- Americans love to travel the world and bring home with them their love of newly discovered cuisines.
- Preparing food and trying new recipes is a creative outlet enjoyed by both sexes.
The Older We Get, the More We Care
Baby Boomers, the largest consumer segment of the population, are far more diverse than previous generations, particularly in terms of lifestyle, health, family size and income according to Trends in the United States, a report from the Food Marketing Institute.
Boomers are active and health-conscious and place emphasis on products and services that make them "feel and look good." Rather than being a lazy, self-indulgent generation, these are people who have worked hard to earn life's luxuries and conveniences.
Boomers value convenience and life-enhancing products. They are reacting to reports that obesity is becoming epidemic and are doing something about it. (For the first time in decades, America's fast food restaurants are showing increased sales on low-fat, low-calorie menu offerings.)
The other factors contributing to an overweight society are being blasted by everyone from President Bush (a Boomer himself) to school guidance counselors. Too much computer time, lack of exercise, over-dependence on automobiles and too many conveniences that rob us of physical exertion are among the culprits.
Acknowledging the problem, providing solutions and motivating one another are on the nation's collective list of New Year's resolutions.
In the end, it will be up to each individual no matter their age, income or background. But the fact remains that the United State is the land of plenty. Newcomers to the country will share the challenge of making good food choices from the plentiful bounty they'll find.
© 2003. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.