Update: According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Americans are eating more healthfully but are still getting fatter. In the late 1970s, about 24 percent of Americans from all age, ethnic and gender groups were considered overweight. In the period from 1988 to 1994, the overweight prevalence in males increased to 34 percent and the percentage of females went up to 37 percent. Twenty-four percent of adolescent youths (12-19 years of age) were also considered overweight.

Because of the number of health problems associated with being overweight (heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases), this increase in fatness is more than a little alarming to health professionals. These experts feel that the basic reason for the change is the declining rates of participation in sports and other forms of physical activity, because there has not been an increase in the number of calories eaten by the average American over this period of time.Interestingly, inactivity is now considered a major risk factor for heart disease, the No. 1 killer in America, along with cigarette smoking, elevated blood pressure and high blood cholesterol levels. And, because such a large proportion of the population is inactive, an increase by the general population in physical activity would have dramatic effects on health.

There has been a slight decrease in total fat (34 percent to 33 percent) and saturated fat (12 percent to 11 percent) intake since 1994-96, and the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten has increased slightly since the "5-A-Day for Better Health Program" became part of a nutrition education program and public-private partnership that encourages the daily intake of at least five servings of healthful fruits and vegetables each day. The proportion of the population that eats at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day rose from 29 percent (1989-91) to 36 percent (1994-96). One problem is that not all vegetable products consumed are low in fat. A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture survey of food intake found that one-third of vegetable servings consumed by people 2-19 years of age in 1995-96 were fried potatoes; and french fries are not really very helpful.

So what can you do to help with these problems? First, become active yourself and encourage your kids or grandkids to be more active. Second, eat at home more often. Eating out affects the quality of food eaten. Third, teach family members about the need to increase the intake of fruits and vegetables and set a goal to eat at least five servings each day. Fourth, don't forget the importance of grains.