In July this year, a 272-lb. New Yorker, with two heart attacks “under his belt,” sued four fast-food chains that he frequented, charging they had not adequately warned him that his diet might be harmful. Coverage in the August 31 issue ofThe Economistwas typical. While noting that Americans have responsibility for their food choices, it also laid some blame on food manufacturers for America's growing problem with obesity. The article pointed out that in Europe, the segment of the food distribution chain that is closest to consumers, the supermarkets, are the most powerful. In contrast, in the U.S., the power lies with food manufacturers, resulting in misleading food labels, poor dietary claim regulations and undue influence in schools. Together, these factors lead to obesity.

Although several points were not without merit, an important fact was overlooked. With few small exceptions, the citizens of all developed countries increasingly are overweight. The World Health Organization's website calls it “globesity,” an escalating global epidemic of people who are overweight and obese. See

However, despite similarities in expanding waist lines, attitudes toward diets and health do vary significantly worldwide, a fact sharply brought into focus by Linda Gilbert, president of Health Focus International, Atlanta, as she reported on results from her most recent survey at Health Ingredients Europe in Paris in October. (See

For example, 69% of those in the U.S. say they always or usually select food for health reasons vs. 37% of the French, 48% of those in the U.K., and 63% of those in Latin America (Brazil, Mexico and Argentina). Interest in learning more about specific nutritional issues varies widely. Some 69% of those in the U.S. say they want to learn more about antioxidants, 73% would like to know more about folate and heart disease and 78% about foods that boost the immune system. This question posed to U.K. consumers resulted in responses of 27%, 24% and 45%, respectively. Some 18%, 17% and 39% of Germans responded that they wanted to know more about these nutrients, respectively.

Significant differences in attitudes toward nutrition exist in many other areas. When asked if everyone's nutritional needs were different, 63% of the French strongly agreed while only 22% of those in the U.S. did so.

Even though citizens among the world's wealthy nations similarly are gaining weight, large differences in attitudes mean it is a large world after all, and in more ways than one.

Internet Information

For more information on this issue's articles, see the Internet sites provided below.

The Road to Health
HealthFocus International — American Heart Association — McDonald's Corp. — Wells Dairy — Anheuser-Busch

An Emerging Market — Uncle Ben's — ConAgra — Kikkoman — Epicurean Specialty

Sorting Fat From Fiction — U.K.'s Institute of Food Science & Technology page on trans fats — University of Delaware searchable database of trans fat content of foods — International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) Q&A — Use “trans fats” or “trans fatty acids” in keyword search field — FDA's 1999 proposed trans fat labeling

Connecting With Calcium — Calcium forms for fortification — Calcium forms - 21CFR104.20 — Regulations that guide fortification — Abstract on study of bioavailablility of calcium in fortified soymilk — Abstract of paper on yogurt fortification with calcium salts — Commercial sites on fortification — Commercial sites on fortification