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Americans spend more than $12 billion dollars a year at some 17,000 health clubs nationwide sweating off the pounds.
updated 3/4/2003 3:22:49 AM ET 2003-03-04T08:22:49

Every year Americans spend billions of dollars fighting the battle of the bulge. From the latest diets, to supplements, to health club memberships, the weight loss industry is booming and showing no signs of slimming down.

STUDIES SHOW THAT Americans are fatter than ever. It’s estimated that four out of ten of us will be obese in the next five years — a big reason why trying to drop those unwanted pounds is a $50 billion a year industry. And that figure doesn’t include medical procedures.

Americans are bigger than ever: almost 65 percent of us bloating, ballooning, and bulging beyond our limits.

“We keep adding more and more fat tissue, said Maudene Nelson, a registered nutritionist at N.Y. Presbyterian Hospital. “Yes, we are getting fatter.”

And we’re spending billions of dollars a year to cut the pork. Many of us are hoping to exercise away the excess.

Americans spend more than $12 billion dollars a year at some 17,000 health clubs nationwide sweating off the pounds.

And when we’re not exercising at a club, we are at home dishing out $5 billion a year our personal gym equipment; treadmills are the biggest seller.

Americans also show a hearty appetite for books. More than $444 million worth of health and diet-related books sold in 2001.

Weight-loss guides helped Miguel Pachco slim down.

“I lost ten seven to ten pounds in the past two weeks,” he said.

And besides reading to lose weight, we’re also meeting. Some 50 million people attended Weight Watchers meetings last year. The company, along with Jenny Craig and LA Weight Loss Centers, divvy up more than $1 billion dollars a year in business.

Overall, more than $33 billion spent on weight loss products and services every year.

And, trying to kick the craving for calories, the health food and dietary supplement industry is

At Fat Free Foods in Manhattan, owner Andrea Halpern says business bursting with success.

“Over the past two years the business has grown over 300 percent,” she said.

Overall, sales of health foods and beverages expanded to $5.5 billion dollars in 2000. Sales of dietary supplements reached $17 billion.

Image: Percent of obese U.S. adults
And when all else fails, when the pounds just won’t go away, Americans are even going under the knife to cut the fat.

The number of radical gastric bypass procedures topped 100,000 this year, weighing in at up to $40,000 an operation and adding billions more to the weight loss business.

Dr. Joe Capella is booked six months out.

“In 1999, we were performing about 120 procedures a year,” he said. “Now, we’re up to about 400 a year.”

Yet registered nutritionist Maudene Nelson says that, for all of the billions of dollars we spend each year to trim the fat, keeping the pounds off for good is tough.

“Once you lose weight there are signals inside the body that actually tell you to try to regain it,” she said

Obesity is a growing problem — for business and industry as well. It’s been estimated to account for up to seven percent of all health care expenditures and lead to at least 39 million lost work days each year.

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