The US is a nation of "seriously overweight" people but even the government's eating recommendations are failing to fight the battle of the bulge.
These are the findings of health experts on nutrition and diet who are urging the Bush administration to overhaul its guidelines for fatties.
Previous government dietary information has resulted in a heavy reliance on carbohydrates and fear of all fats which have left the nation tipping the scales towards obesity.
Americans continue to over-eat resulting in being overweight but even the government's dietary recommendations, as laid out in the so-called food pyramid, are faulty, according to the experts.
"Looking at some of the recommendations from the department of agriculture gives the idea that they've forgotten that we're feeding people, not horses"
professor of epidemiology and nutrition
Several of them gathered on Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate's Consumer Affairs and Product Safety Subcommittee.
The Department of Agriculture's pyramid oversimplifies the food groups and stresses such food as bread and pasta at the expense of more proteins and unsaturated fats.
"Looking at some of the recommendations from the department of agriculture gives the idea that they've forgotten that we're feeding people, not horses," said Walter Willet, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
The obesity epidemic afflicts nearly two out of every three people and has been related to illnesses resulting in the death of one in eight Americans each year, according to the Surgeon General's office.
While the USDA's flawed guidelines are not the only culprits, Willet said, "The pyramid, it hasn't helped. It probably made it more hard for people to control their weight."
The food pyramid, seen in most doctors' offices and schools, outlines the government's version of the healthiest way to eat.
Few revisions have been made since its release by the Department of Agriculture in 1992, said John Webster, a USDA spokesman.
Fast foods mean fat foods
The latest edition of the pyramid recommends that Americans eat six to 11 servings of carbohydrates a day, or the equivalent of six to 11 slices of bread. The pyramid also groups together fats, oils and sweets in one group and recommends they be eaten in small amounts.
"We need to get away from fat phobia," said Stuart Lawrence
Trager, a clinical assistant professor of orthopedic surgery is a leading advocate of the high-protein Atkins diet. He said the pyramid did not account for the difference between the healthy unsaturated fats and high-fiber carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains, and their undesirable counterparts.
"Is there a link between our ever expanding waistlines and our government dietary guidelines?" asked Sen Peter Fitzgerald, an Illinois Republican, who announced he would introduce legislation to transfer the responsibility of dietary guidelines away from the USDA.
The USDA may have a conflict of interest by supporting grain and sugar producers while recommending that Americans eat less carbohydrates.
"Putting the USDA in charge of dietary guidelines is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house," said Fitzgerald, the chair of the committee that heard the hearing.