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Yes, It Really Is a Plot continued...

With an annual public campaign budget of just $1 million, it's hard for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other governmental agencies to compete, Nestle says. And even then, people complain that the amount is wasteful, especially when Americans keep putting on the pounds, despite the public health messages.

So why aren't there ads coaxing us to enjoy, say, an apple or a peach? Produce growers often view each other as competitors, Nestle says. "And they don't see the value of generic advertising and don't have the same kind of money [as the producers of fast foods and snack foods]. Plain fruits and vegetables are not very profitable compared to processed foods."

Even worse, the messages we get about eating from media and society are often mixed, says Diane Quagliani, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a Chicago dietitian. Magazines brim with food ads but also include diet articles -- driven by ad budgets and their readers' desire to lose weight.

"We are diet-focused," she says, "yet getting fatter and fatter." From 1991 to 1998, the percentage of obese adults -- defined as those with a body mass index of 30 or higher -- rose from 12% to nearly 18%, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Other Side

Those who cater to our hunger deny that there's a plot afoot to make us overeat. ''Our menu is driven by our customers,'' says Lisa Howard, a spokeswoman for McDonald's Corporation. ''We find out what our customers want through focus groups and customer research.''

It's possible, she points out, to have a low-fat, reasonably low-calorie meal at McDonald's if you pick and choose wisely. To help customers do that, McDonald's offers a nutritional chart that lists its menu items with the nutritional information for each item, including the amount of calories, fat grams, salt, cholesterol, and fiber in a serving.

The "Super-Size" Mentality

But what of the super-sized portions? On a recent trip to the grocery store, Quagliani recently spied the biggest bag of potato chips she had ever seen. So, what's the harm in buying the large size, you say? After all, it's the economical approach.

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