By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Reading Scientific American this week, I became transfixed with a little graphic the editors included at the back of the magazine.

It showed how the number of Americans who are seriously overweight has doubled over the past 30 years. Thirty four percent of Americans are now considered obese (meaning they have a body mass index over 30), compared with 15 percent who met that criteria in 1980.

The number of Americans who are overweight (with a BMI of 25 to 30) has remained almost steady; but that still means that the overweight and the obese together now make up a hefty 68 percent of the population. (Figure your BMI here.)

There are more people who are struggling with weight issues than those who aren’t.

American obesity and healthcare, a $147 billion health care issue; click to see the full graphic.

It seems unbelievable. But you don’t have to look far for verification. Two weeks ago, sadly, we sat behind a theater goer who required two seats. More concerning, was the two-seats-required person who showed up on my last flight. The plane was a regional jet, fully packed. I quickly took stock of the overall weight on board and concluded that this probably wasn’t an isolated event.

The Scientific American graphic, which appears to rely on government statistics, wasn’t just tallying up these alarming figures (no pun intended there), it was matching up the weight stats with their attendant increased risk of coronary artery disease and diabetes.

Did you know that a person who is obese has an 11 times greater chance of developing diabetes compared with a person of average, or make that normal, weight? The chances of an obese person developing coronary artery disease is two to three times as great as a person of normal weight, and if they’re obese at age 50 they have a two to three times greater risk of dying compared to people who aren’t carrying the extra pounds.

There’s little mystery here. Get fat and you have a very good chance of getting sick.

So I’m mystified by a corollary (or maybe that should be coronary) trend of deep-fat frying in restaurants. I know a few eateries have been adding lighter fare to the menu. But an increasing variety of foods that were fine just the way they were are taking an inexplicable dip in the deep fryer.

No sooner had I heard about the Cheesecake Factory’s Fried Macaroni and Cheese Balls, which sound completely gross, than I got an email about the Olive Garden’s new fried lasagna called a Lasagna Fritta.

We needed our lasagna fried, why?

This ill-conceived culinary gut bomb apparently rolled in off the chef’s table because someone tired of regular lasagna — or perhaps there was leftover lasagna involved. Yuck. A Lasagna Fritta could make you not fitta in your pants. It begins with breaded lasagna pieces, which are fried (because we can!) and served over alfredo sauce, topped with Parmesan cheese and marinara sauce. Two sauces.

Bon Appe-Double Yuck!

I don’t mean to sound pious. I’m not even skinny (and I truly don’t get enough exercise, but enough self effacement). I’m truly disgusted by this movement to undermine our health.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest this little appetizer — yup, it’s an appetizer! — delivers half a day’s calories and a day’s worth of saturated fat (21 grams) and sodium (1,590 milligrams). Read the same info on the Olive Garden website. Of course you’ll be sharing it. We hope.

What concerns me is the total disconnect here. This sort of unnecessary indulgence is wrong on so many levels — it’s unhealthful, wastes resources, promotes gluttony and perpetuates disease, which means it’s costly for all of society. Here we are getting bigger and bigger, and what does our State Fair do? Salutes us with deep-fried ice cream (and beer, butter and Coke). The Texas State Fair reveals something about the masochist psychology behind this trend with its new entrant this year, a deep fried club salad.

So it’s not just the Fritta, but the many Fritta-esque things we’re eating, especially in restaurants.

I’m not even sure what the answers are. Perhaps we who are watching our waist lines should start splitting entrees when we dine out? We could choose more healthful places and consider the extra cost of careful dining to be an investment in our dotage. We could eat in more often, and put the savings toward a worthwhile project. And we should pre-medicate with Resveratrol before visiting the fair.

Clearly our penchant for the goopiest, fattest, sweetest restaurant fare is a killer. In fact, that’s what CSPI senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley called the Fritta.

“Lasagna’s not exactly health food to begin with, but bread it with cheese, deep-fry it, and plate it with cream sauce and still more cheese, and you have a killer app,” she said.

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