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Thanksgiving Is Only One Reason Americans Are Fat

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The US is the fattest of 33 countries says a recent report from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, a group that advises governments on economic growth, social development and financial stability. Mexico and New Zealand are next runners up and the thinnest countries are India and Indonesia.

Half of Americans were overweight in 1980 and now 70 percent tip the scales as overweight says the report. (And that's before Thanksgiving gluttony.) By 2020, three-fourths of Americans are expected to be overweight, says OECD, And in 2030? Eighty-six percent of Americans will be overweight says an 2008 article in the journal Obesity.

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It's easy to see why US kids are becoming fat. Instead of playing outside like they used to (sometimes locked outside by harried Moms) many are videogame addicts and hooked on other indoor electronics. Instead of walking, biking or taking the bus to school and activities, they rely on Mom's trusty taxi. (The New York Times says both adults and children who hoof it are less obese.) And instead of the occasional Tootsie Roll Pop, a tsunami of high fructose corn syrup foods are huckstered to them.

Worse, many kids live in food deserts where the only "oases" are golden arches and Colonel Sanders. Ninth graders whose schools are close to fast food franchises are more likely to be obese says a 2010 study by the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. And school lunch programs are often dumping grounds for cheese, milk and meat thanks to USDA support of the dairy and meat industries.

Food is also cheaper than it was - especially bad food - with super-size prices at fast food restaurants and drive-thru restaurants. And, snacks are just plain more available, hawked in places that used to be food free like retail stores.

The demise of the sit down family meal is also a factor in obesity says the Star-Tribune. Structured family meals give a sense of safety and security to children at the same time they teach "healthful eating habits." In addition to being fed with food, at sit down family meals, children are "fed" with parental attention, Leave it to Beaver style. Leave a person alone with a TV as a dinner partner, and they can easily polish off a entire pizza, especially because with no one watching.

In fact, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found substance abuse - which includes food addiction - is significantly lower in families that eat together three times a week.

Fashion also enables fatness. Yoga pants and leggings may have grown out of the fitness and body aware movement but they "fit" even as someone is packing on the pounds. So do baggy and low hung hip hop fashions. And clothes that aren't stretch or baggy? Women's size fives are now size zeros thanks to size inflation. In fact, size inflation is so dramatic, today's size zeros can probably not slither into size tens at Goodwill and Salvation Army thrift stores! Even the arms won't fit.

And then there's the comparison factor. People don't compare their own size to the last generation (who wore vintage fashions), they compare it to the people they sit next to. Unfortunately, the results can be as skewed as comparing what you eat at Thanksgiving dinner to what the person next you had.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health

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