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The one thing you would think is that after all the lite food and Health Riders and Nordic Trak and Jane Fonda and fat themostats and cholesterol counts and aerobics and especially Richard Simmons - whew! - Americans at least wouldn't be (here comes the F-word) FAT.

Americans might be sweaty and stinky and worn out and heavily in debt because of all of the huffing and puffing and all exercise machines and videos they've purchased.But fat?

It's true. Just look at your belt - if you can find it.

Don't worry, you've got a lot of company. A recent federal survey reported that more Americans are overweight than ever, and that "fatness" has increased dramatically in recent years.

According to the report, from 1960 to 1980, 25 percent of U.S. adults were obese (the polite word for fat). Since then, that figure has fattened up to 33 percent (brace yourself for the results of a similar study on children).

At this rate, we'll all be buying our clothes from Olaf the Tentmaker some time in the next century.

The fattening of American has been largely pinned on two factors: 1) Americans don't exercise.

2) Food is plentiful in America and Americans indulge, especially if the food is pizza or anything fried, smothered in sour cream and cheese, or soaked with saturated fat (preferably all of the above).

Other than the fact that they eat too much and exercise too little, Americans are in great shape.

According to Newsweek magazine, in 1985, 55 percent of those surveyed said being overweight is unattractive; today only 36 percent say being overweight is unattractive.

In other words, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Former surgeon general C. Everett Koop and the American Cancer Society, among others, are urging President Clinton to declare obesity a national crisis - right up there with drought and forest fires.

Exercise would have to a key part of any solution to the crisis. Without exercise, Americans are merely treating the symptoms with their myriad weight-loss programs. According to Garth Fisher, director of BYU's Human Performance Research Center, 97 percent of those who participate in a weight-loss program return to their original weight.

The whole image of America as one big aerobics class is now being called a myth. It's true that more Americans than ever are exercising - but not a high percentage of them. The purported exercise boom that brought us running, aerobics, rollerblading and so on, isn't really a boom at all.

A record number of Americans watch sports these days; they just don't like to do them, unless they don't have to get their heart rate up (golf, for instance).

Fisher isn't exactly optimistic that situation will reverse itself.

"The reason people aren't exercising is it's just hard work," he says. "It takes time and energy and effort. A lot of people don't want to do that. They don't want to put that kind of effort into anything. If you did (a survey) on how many people actually try to learn or study or better themselves, pick up a new skill or hobby, you'd find the same thing. They just want to go to work and come home. There are a lot of things we believe are important that we just don't do.

"Spectator sports are so popular because they take no energy. Movies are up too. People don't play games anymore either. They watch TV. They just want to sit on a couch and push a button. I don't know how you get people to (exercise). I'm no expert in motivation. That's (Stephen) Covey's job. People have to change themselves."

Fisher, among others, thinks we'd be better off trying to influence the eating and exercise habits of children, who also are in a sorry state according to other studies. Yet P.E. classes are either being cut to save money or they are ineffective.

"P.E. classes are just crowd control," says one Utah high school teacher.

One organization claims only 36 percent of U.S. schools require P.E. classes. And of those P.E. classes that do exist, many do not provide aerobic exercise; softball doesn't count.

"(Kids) are the place to make changes," says Fisher.

Short of that, the problem of weight control in the U.S. will get bigger and bigger - just like America's waistline.