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Downsize this! Americans escalate their war on fat

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• State legislatures doubled the number of bills and resolutions this year targeting what is now perceived as a crisis, especially among children - taxing movie tickets to pay for fat-fighting programs, beefing up phys-ed in schools, and requiring restaurants to offer healthier options on children's menus. And a number are considering exempting restaurants from being sued for weight-related health issues.

• Whether liable or not, businesses are adapting, too. Southwest Airlines now asks some larger passengers to purchase two seats on crowded flights - to prevent discomfort for other fliers. Grocery aisles offer smaller soda cans and "low-carb" foods.

Where the view in the mirror has long driven the diet-conscious, today more and more parents are noticing how many of their kids are dimpled, dumpy, paunchy and plump, and are concerned.

The move by McDonald's is about more than just portion size. After decades of dieting focused on low-fat foods, the battleground has shifted to carbohydrates as the primary culprit in the nation's overeating habits. Ads for the "Atkins" and "South Beach" low-carb diets are are virtually inescapable. Newer methods ("Beyond Atkins") are already refining the concept.

Besides nutritional scrutiny, experts say the last quarter century has highlighted other American predilections that are as close under our noses as the sneeze guard at your local buffet. One is the need for exercise, especially as sedentary commutes grow longer. Another is for a healthy mental outlook. Then there's the fact that Americans like their products on the big side - from SUVs to big-screen TVs. Put food in that equation, and it helps explain why the American body has been getting larger.

Mix the two trends together and you get a fat sandwich with a side of corpulence.

"For all kinds of reasons, Americans have become completely conditioned to see basic serving sizes as something much larger than 30 to 40 years ago, and that is our biggest problem," says Ms. Lanou. American meal portions have grown, along with markings on packages which say what a "normal" helping is.

The trend separates America from the practices of Europeans, experts say, with smaller portions typical from France to Italy to Spain and even Germany.

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