Even the most casual observers of current events in the U.S. have heard of the “obesity epidemic” that is supposedly gobbling up our children by the thousands. But Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob told New Jersey’s Bergen County Record last week that parents shouldn’t rush to blame food companies and restaurants for their kids’ pudgier-than-normal silhouettes.

Ayoob, a professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, told the Record that “the amount of food children take in hasn’t changed much over the years, so something else is happening.” This, of course, runs counter to the messages promoted by activists who dream of anti-McDonald’s headlines about “fallen arches.”

It also cuts against the grain of food cops like Kelly Brownell (who continues to insist that schools bear the financial burden of removing vending machines in the name of nutritional purity); unscientific academics pushing taxes on “bad” foods and soft drinks; and, of course, the overzealous trial lawyers who are eager to capitalize on the resulting public hysteria.

Even government bureaucrats are getting into the game. The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services met last week with representatives from the major fast-food restaurant chains. HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson told the Washington Post that restaurants must “find ways to merchandise healthier foods” [Shades of things to come: Australia’s federal government announced plans last week to force fast-food vendors in that country to limit the marketing of “super-size” meals].

Which brings us back to Dr. Ayoob. If kids really aren’t eating more than ever, then where does he place the blame for the letting out of American kids’ trousers? “It’s all the fault of “the three N’s,” he says: Nintendo, Netscape, and Nickelodeon. The Bergen County Record sums up Ayoob’s sensible philosophy: “A child who spends his time watching television, playing computer games, or surfing the internet isn’t getting any physical activity.”