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SafetyAlerts
November 21, 2001

New Survey: In Wake of September 11th, 1/5 of Americans Turn To Unhealthy Foods

Some Get Early Start On 'Holiday Eating, But Vast Majority Go On as Usual

 (SafetyAlerts) -  A new survey commissioned by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) shows that about 20 percent of Americans have made unhealthy changes in the way they eat in the wake of the events of September 11th. The survey, conducted exactly two months after the terror attacks on New York and Washington, sheds light on anecdotal reports about how those events have affected America.

Almost 20 percent of those surveyed said they had found themselves eating more "comfort foods" like mashed potatoes and gravy, fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. About 13 percent said they had been eating more rich, hearty foods like steak, stews and lasagna. Sugar cravings are also on the rise, with 19 percent saying they have been eating more sweet, sugary foods like desserts and ice cream.

AICR experts warned that such foods tend to be high in fat, high in calories, and low in much-needed nutrients. These foods also lack the protective potential of phytochemicals -- natural substances found in plant foods that have been shown to fight cancer and other diseases.

"Autumn is traditionally a time when Americans transition to heartier meals, but 'hearty' and 'high in fat' are not the same thing," said Melanie Polk, RD, Director of Nutrition Education at AICR. "Meals can be satisfying and healthy at the same time, particularly if they feature larger portions of vegetables and grains, which satisfy hunger and carry a smaller fat and calorie payload than meat or cheese."

This advice grows out of an AICR program called the New American Plate that is geared to help individuals manage their weight and prevent chronic diseases. The program recommends smaller food portions and making changes in mealtime proportions such that vegetables, whole grains or other plant foods make up at least 2/3 of the meal, leaving 1/3 or less for meat, chicken or fish.

Experts Concerned About Long-Term Implications of Unhealthy Eating

Dr. John Foreyt and his colleagues at the Behavioral Medicine Center at Houston's Baylor College of Medicine study how emotional responses impact patterns of food consumption. He believes the results of the AICR survey are dismaying, but understandable.

"It's exactly the response you expect to see," he said. "When we are anxious or fearful, we fall back to foods we associate with times of lowest stress -- that is, with childhood.

"But I am shocked that we're still seeing the effects now, over two months after the attacks."

Both Foreyt and Polk warn that any move toward foods that are higher in fat and calories should be a temporary one. When such foods make up a significant part of the diet, they say, serious health implications arise down the road, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, obesity and diabetes.

Some Got Early Start on Holiday Eating this Year

Polk is particularly concerned that the timing of the attacks may make it easier for unhealthy changes in eating behavior to hang around. "Just as our country is beginning to move on and deal with our grief, the holiday season begins," she noted.

The holiday season is traditionally a time of indulgence, and, for many, modest weight gain. Self-imposed rules about diet and exercise are relaxed, high-fat foods and treats are plentiful, and generous portions are served at holiday meals.

"It appears that about 1/5 of us got an early start on holiday eating this year," said Polk.

For Majority of Americans, Eating Behaviors Remain Unaffected

Fully 90 percent of Americans said they were eating the same amount of food they had always eaten. Only four percent of those surveyed said they were eating more, and six percent said they were eating less.

Snacking, a behavior widely believed to rise in times of stress, has remained largely unaffected. Only six percent said they were snacking more, while six percent said they were less likely to eat between meals. Overall, 87 percent of Americans said their snacking behavior has not changed.

A similar 87 percent said they were getting just as much physical activity as always, while seven percent said they were exercising more, and five percent said they were exercising less.

Following the attacks, there were oft-repeated assertions about increases in bar patronage and home alcohol consumption. Yet in the AICR survey, only two percent of Americans said they were actually drinking more. Nearly six percent said they were drinking less, and 76 percent said they were drinking exactly as much as they had before the attacks. (Non-drinkers accounted for the missing 16 percent.)

Conducted for AICR by International Communications Research (ICR), the survey involved 1,003 adults, 18 years or older, chosen at random. Respondents were interviewed by telephone over a five-day period in mid-November, 2001.

Source: PRNewswire.

 
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