Americans: Fat and Wary of Healthful Menu Options

America, we have been told yet again, is fat. Especially the part known as Mississippi. We're so fat, in fact, that today, the state with the lowest obesity rate (that would be Colorado) would have had the country's highest rate in 1995.

As Reuters reports, such statistics -- which were released yesterday in an annual report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -- are due in part to the fact that Americans have spent the last two decades eating less nutritious food, and more of it, while at the same time reducing our activity levels. Such desultory multitasking skills have been aided and abetted by the food industry, which has supersized restaurant portions and crammed grocery store shelves with jugs of sugar-sweetened beverages.

The food industry, ever resistant to efforts to regulate its products, has insisted that Americans take "personal responsibility" for what we cram in our faces. But it seems it's not doing as much as it could to encourage consumers to choose salads instead of bloomin' onions. According to Nation's Restaurant News, many restaurant customers believe that healthier menu options are more expensive than unhealthy ones, a perception that has been encouraged by restaurants that have removed healthy dishes from their recession-driven value menus.

These findings come from a Chicago-based research group, which reported that 41 percent of its survey respondents said that eating healthfully is more expensive than eating crap. And even if they were inclined to eat healthfully, the lower-calorie options served at many restaurants aren't particularly enticing: Less than half of the survey's respondents rated healthful meals higher than average meals on flavor, appearance, taste, and satisfaction. Apparently Applebee's Asian Crunch Salad doesn't have quite the same cachet as its cheeseburger sliders with applewood-smoked bacon where satiety is concerned.

Eighty-one percent of the consumers surveyed did say that they'd like tools -- such as nutritional labeling -- to make more informed decisions about their food purchases. They may get their wish later this year, when federal menu-labeling regulations are issued. In the meantime, the food industry is happy to lead consumers to believe that you can get a bounty of healthful nutrients from mixing freeze-dried, pulverized cauliflower into processed pasta dough.

Have a tip or restaurant-related news? Send it to fork@villagevoice.com.

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