AMES, Iowa -- For many Americans, the phrase “what’s on your plate” refers less often to food and more often to juggling projects and activities.
“Because those commitments affect our eating habits, they can have an equal or even greater effect on our health than the actual foods we choose to eat,” said Ruth Litchfield, Iowa State University Extension nutrition specialist.
Although national marketing research has followed a 20-year trend toward eating more meals at home, more and more of those meals have come from a restaurant. That is, until the last three or four years.
Researchers point to increased sales of frozen and pre-prepared foods to help explain why Americans are not ordering out as much even though time is still a major factor in meal preparation.
“More importantly, weight statistics have gone up even as number of meals has stayed about the same,” Litchfield said. “That implies that the size of the average meal must be getting larger.”
Indeed, research by Barbara Rolls, professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State University indicates that portions served in the home and typical recipes in cookbooks are all bigger now than in the 1970s. In addition, restaurants also are offering bigger portions to attract customers.
“If you serve it, they will eat it,” Litchfield said. “The American environment is loaded with messages that encourage over-consumption. Consumers face a constant challenge in their struggle with the scale.”
One approach that has helped Iowans is the Lighten Up Iowa program jointly sponsored by ISU Extension, the Iowa Department of Health and Iowa Games. Since 2002 more than 74,000 Iowa participants have lost more than 153 tons of weight.
“One advantage of joining a Lighten Up Iowa team is that participants receive weekly messages to help them make healthy choices daily,” Litchfield said. “How-to tips help people visualize appropriate portion sizes, determine nutritional value and try quick, healthy recipes.”
Participants in Lighten Up Iowa can choose to focus on weight loss, on increasing physical activity or on both through a team approach that creates a positive, supportive environment. Lighten Up Iowa begins Jan. 10, 2007. For more information and registration visit: www.lightenupiowa.org
For additional resources, visit the ISU Extension nutrition Web site at www.extension.iastate.edu/healthnutrition