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Amid sugar buzz, dont forget health

Krispy Kreme was calling us. We were on our way home from the Scottish Highland Games in Washington, and there it was É a Krispy Kreme with no mile-long line. For the past year, we had been driving past these stores on our excursions to various games. However, there was always that long line Ñ and we were not going to wait in it.

We entered a pristine store. A gracious employee greeted us with a free, toasty doughnut É from the end of the machine, which just happened to be right next to the cash register and a display of all the doughnuts. The doughnut tasted great.

What a strange state of affairs. Twenty-five years ago, it was like pulling teeth to get health care professionals to pay any attention to the topic of nutrition. Now, it's widely known that obesity is linked to heart disease, diabetes and asthma, to name just a few health epidemics. What a turnaround!

Proposals are emerging to tax industries perceived to be the culprit of obesity Ñ a fat tax, if you will. While I question this approach, I certainly support the need to find solutions. We should be very concerned. The rate of obesity is skyrocketing, especially in our children.

However, why target only fast food and junk food? Upscale restaurants often have portions and foods that have more fat and calories than fast-food menu items. For instance, a standard Krispy Kreme doughnut has fewer calories than a regular whole-wheat bagel and light cream cheese. Regardless of what you eat, it takes a mere 100 additional calories each day to gain up to 10 pounds in one year. So É should we boycott our favorite coffee shop? Or maybe a muffin tax or scone tax is around the corner?

I joke, but in reality, our country is facing a monumental task in trying to lower obesity levels. Aware of this reality, many restaurants have chosen to add healthier options on their menus. They aren't likely to be hot sellers, I dare say. However, I wonder what would happen if a restaurant just quit serving french fries? How would consumers react?

As a nutritionist, I know how difficult it is to compete against product promotions, where more is spent on a single new product campaign than our government is able to spend on health promotion or education in a year.

On the other hand, Americans seem to be aware of their growing girth Ñ they spend billions annually on fad diets, misinformation and expensive ephedra- or caffeine-based commercial weight loss programs. And it's not working.

Given these parameters Ñ and the boundless questions they lead to Ñ it's nearly impossible to point a finger at one industry or business sector as the root cause for our nation's health problems.

Instead, we need to evaluate the relationship between individual, family and community accountability to prevent obesity. What about changing our food and activity culture? Perhaps we should push to make building construction and city planning include a physical activity-friendly focus. What about increased employer support for wellness?

On the other hand, what about taking advantage of the employer wellness opportunities already present? For example, bring a basket of apples for that next meeting instead of Krispy Kremes. Try a walking break for 20 minutes at your next conference. Eat a half-portion the next time you visit a restaurant. Sign your kids up for a parks and recreation program this summer. Try not purchasing certain products you know offer no nutritional value or benefit.

Oregon has made a good start with the Healthy Active Oregon plan for Nutrition and Physical Activity. It's available on the Web at www.dhs.state.or.us/publichealth/

hpcdp/physicalactivityandnutrition/index.cfm.

This plan is designed to change the environments in our schools, communities and work sites for better eating patterns and physical activity levels. This is an example of the kind of planning effort that will help change our culture and attitude in order to solve our health problems.

That's not to say that being devoted to health means you can't have a little fun. I'm going to continue to have that once-a-year-at-Halloween homemade doughnut party that my family and friends love. But then again, maybe I shouldn't tell you Ñ I might end up paying taxes on it!

Terese Scollard is a registered and licensed dietitian, and nutrition manager at Providence Health System. She is a member of the state Board of Examiners of Licensed Dietitians and the Nutrition Council of Oregon.