The numbers are, quite frankly, staggering: More than 60 percent of American adults are now overweight; of these, nearly half can be classified as obese. Almost one in two Americans will die of heart disease, making it the nation's number-one killer. In fact, 300,000 deaths annually can be attributed to the double-whammy of physical inactivity and being overweight. To most health experts, it's nothing less than an epidemic, and some have even coined a new phrase to describe it: Sedentary Death Syndrome.
Of course, it's easy to spout numbers and facts and clever terms. As almost anyone will tell you, it's much, much harder to do something about it (which yields yet another number: the $32 billion Americans spend annually on diet products).
The constant bombardment of conflicting advice and fad diets can confuse even the most studied eaters. And now, even the Food Pyramid we all held as gospel is under fire. According to many experts, there should be an immediate and wholesale revision of the diagram that has stood for decades as the paradigm of healthy eating. "The Pyramid has several fundamental flaws," says Dr. Walter Willett, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. "The central advice is that all fat is bad and large amounts of starch are good. In fact, we have known for 40 years that some types of fat, like the polyunsaturated fat found in nuts and soy and fish, are essential and can actually reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. And the Pyramid fails to distinguish clearly between carbohydrate sources, leading many people to eat large amounts of unhealthy carbs. And they've paid the price."