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Lifestyle changes pack on pounds

USA Today, February 9, 2004
NANCI HELLMICH

Nutritionists who work with overweight patients aren't surprised by the news that Americans are eating far more calories today than they did 30 years ago. They've seen it in their practices for years. A government study out Friday showed that women eat 335 calories more a day now than they did in the early '70s; men eat about 168 more a day.

People are taking in more calories today because of big portions, constant snacking and meals that are less structured and eaten more often away from home, says Robyn Flipse, a registered dietitian in private practice in Ocean, N.J. "Eating is on the go. It's in the car, it's at the desk, it's out of hand," she says. "And when you are not eating with a knife and fork, you lose sight of portion sizes and when it's time to stop." She says people are gobbling snack foods, meal replacement bars, shakes and other foods without realizing how many calories they're consuming.

All this is happening at a time when almost 65% of Americans are either overweight or obese, putting them at a greater risk for heart disease, cancer and many other illnesses. The new study, based on data gathered from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, looked at dietary recall interviews (participants tell researchers what they ate over the past 24 hours) with 16,600 people in 1971-1974 and 1999-2000.

The actual number of calories people ate is probably higher than this study found, some experts say. "We do know that dietary recalls tend to be an underestimate of intake, and they are subject to bias because people have to remember what they ate," says Jacqueline Wright, an epidemiologist with the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This study "is consistent with other data showing there has been an overall increase in calories."