Monday, March 20, 2000

America fifth

Bad news for those who like to see America come out on top of any contest: All fast-food evidence to the contrary, American children do not have the worst dietary habits in the world. Close, but no cigar (they don't smoke the most, either).

According to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO), which clearly does not have enough to do, American schoolchildren rank a shocking fifth in most french fries eaten. Only 30 percent of U.S. 15-year-olds eat fries on a daily basis, earning the country a fat-fried fifth place behind Northern Ireland, Scotland, Israel, and England (though not, interestingly enough, France). Heck, they're probably still frying their chips in lard over there in the U.K., soundly kicking our nutritional butts. And who knew Israel was such a french-fry powerhouse?

Our young people are falling behind in other categories, too. Think we eat more sweets and drink more soda than anyone else? Wrong; we only make the top 3. Worried about teen smoking? A mere 12 percent of 15-year-olds 'fessed up to lighting up 24/7, rating us an ever-so-wispy 24th out of the 28 nations surveyed. Greenlanders blow the most smoke, with 56 percent of 15-year-old boys and 45 percent of 15-year-old girls puffing daily.

The study surveyed 120,000 kids in 28 countries, and found that the Austrians, Germans, and Slovak Republicans did the most exercising--80 percent of students worked out daily--and the Welsh, Greeks, and English did the most drinking--with 53, 52, and 47 percent, respectively, tipping one back at least weekly. Only two-thirds of American students exercise that much, while a measly 23 percent met the drink mark.

Now, this is all going to be a disappointment to those who like to feel that America always leads the way, even if it's to hell in a handbasket. But as a parent, I have to say, I'm relieved. Relieved because our kids aren't the world's worst. And relieved because this study--unlike all those that show American students to be lagging academically--offers parents goals that can realistically be attained. We may not be able to make our kids math whizzes or science savants, but we can sure take them to McDonalds' an extra time or two and knock those English out of the running.

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