Washington counts cost of fat America getting fatter

ANYONE who has ever bought a sandwich in a New York deli or anywhere in the United States for that matter, knows Americans are fat because they eat too much.

But new statistics on obesity suggest the national problem of fatness should be regarded as an epidemic.

The number of overweight adults, which had been stable at about one quarter of the adult population for two decades until 1980, suddenly jumped to one third over the course of the next 10 years, according to a government study to be released today.

The figures for children are apparently even worse and the government is so concerned about the cost to the nation of poor health that one day soon Americans may be buying their hamburgers in wrappers that have an official warning from the Surgeon-General: 'Eating can be bad for your health.'

The study by the National Centre for Health Statistics found that the most overweight people were black women, half of whom were considered obese, compared to a third of white women. 'If this was about tuberculosis, it would be called an epidemic,'

Dr Xavier Pi-Sunyer, a nutritionist and professor at Columbia University, says in an editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which will publish the new findings.

Gluttony, sloth and the pervasive couch-potato who watches television all day have been blamed for the problem in the past, but now the government is turning its attention to the broader social picture, and is also looking at the over-abundant food supply, and food advertising. The United States produces 3,700 calories a day for every man, woman and child, when women need only half that amount and men about two-thirds.

The food industry spends dollars 36bn ( pounds 24bn) a year on advertising designed to make people eat more, while government expenditure for nutrition education is tiny. In schools, for example, the government gives each state dollars 50,000 for such programmes.

Obesity was estimated to have cost the nation nearly dollars 70bn in 1990. Medical problems related to fatness that someone has to foot the bill for include cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Government nutritionists are pushing for a much wider-based policy for dealing with the problem.