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How Metric Misunderstanding's Making Americans Fat

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How Metric Misunderstanding's Making Americans Fat
Photo Liz West / Flickr

Although the metric system is used worldwide, Americans have always preferred to measure things in feet or teaspoons and not in meters or grams. This resistance to converting to a more exact measuring system sabotages diets and may lead to unhealthy portions. That is the argument made by experts in metrics and nutrition. Their premise is based on the irony that even though food labels in the United States are measured in grams, the average American does not know what that means in terms of portion size.

This fact was illustrated in a recent poll by Consumer World, a website dedicated to consumer information. Edgar Dworsky, the site’s founder, formerly worked in consumer affairs for the state of Massachusetts. Dworsky found that measuring sugar in grams posed a challenge to poll participants. Many of them did not know that 25 grams of sugar equals six teaspoons of sugar. In addition, many participants thought the measurement in grams appeared healthier.

Aside from having trouble with the metric system, Americans have difficulty with portion sizes, according to Terry Huang, professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health: “Most Americans aren’t properly taught how to read nutrition labels, and when they do learn, they can’t translate for multiple servings of food or keep tab on consumption over the day,” Huang said.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials are brainstorming ways of making nutrition labels easier to understand. The food industry has responded by labeling the front of packages, a move criticized by some nutrition experts as being confusing to consumers.

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