Sound the alarm! The war on fat has been declared!
an article in USA Weekend, a Sunday newspaper insert distributed
throughout the United States, announced the latest U.S. crusade: fat.
Michael Foment, author of Fat of the Land: The Obesity Epidemic and
How Overweight Americans Can Help Themselves, raised the cry. In his
article, which quotes heavily from former Surgeon General C. Everett
Koop, Fumento decries the lack of concern over the problem of obesity in
the United States.
The facts: Obesity kills! (and costs money)
According to Fumento, three out of four U.S. citizens weigh too much,
and other sources say anywhere from 1/3 to Ã¯Â¿Â½ of North Americans are
overweight. Indeed, according to a presentation at NutraCon ’97, in Las
Vegas, NV, a Baylor University study predicts that by the year 2030, 100
percent of U.S. citizens will be obese by current standards.
price we pay in quality of life—both in terms of health and finances—is
staggering. Some 300,000 Americans die each year due to obesity.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney
Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, obesity is also costing
the country big bucks:
- Nearly 80 percent of patients with Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus
(NIDDM) are obese, and much of the estimated $11.3 billion spent each year to
diagnose, treat, and manage NIDDM relates to obesity.
- Nearly $2.4 billion or 30 percent of the total amount spent annually on
gallbladder disease and gallbladder surgery are related to obesity.
- Nearly 70 percent of the diagnosed cases of cardiovascular disease are
related to obesity, and obesity accounts for $22.2 billion, or 19 percent, of
the total cost of heart disease.
- The annual cost of obesity-related high blood pressure is close to $1.5
- Obesity-related breast cancer and colon cancer account for 2.5 percent of
the total costs of cancer, or $1.9 billion.
- An additional $33 billion are spent annually in the United States on
weight-reduction products and services, including diet foods, products, and
This is a total of approximately $60 billion a year, and on par with
smoking, which kills approximately 434,000 a year and costs billions of
With this death rate and this kind of money, you would
think that North Americans would be charging full speed ahead into the
war zone. But they are not. Why not?
Too many of us are overweight
and just don’t care! Taste and pleasure are numero uno, not
health. According to the NPD Group, a research marketing firm, the
percentage of homemakers who say taste is the most important food
consideration is rising, while the percentage who say you should be
cautious about serving fat is decreasing. Only about 1/4 of homemakers
say they worry about calories.
There is also much more pressure on
us to eat than to smoke. While only the tobacco industry encourages us
to smoke, multiple industries encourage us to eat, and eat bad foods:
the food industry, the fast-food industry, the soft drink
industry—industries with a tradition, with advertising and public
relations savvy, and with big bucks.
Pivotal in changing the
"pleasure first, health second" mindset is the role insurance companies
take. If they become more aggressive in publicizing the link between
obesity and ill health (and the cost), and install incentives and the
means to lose weight and change lifestyles, things could change.
Is it a possibility?
Yes, and things are changing. At the same
time that North Americans are getting larger, there is more publicity on
the dangers of obesity. This information is out there; it just is not
being processed well by the public.
Major insurers are beginning
to provide incentives for those who modify diet and lifestyle to prevent
problems. Perhaps the most dramatic, although it is not concerned with
weight loss directly, is the number of organizations paying for their
patients to voluntarily participate in the Ornish Program. This program
sets out strict parameters as to diet and exercise.
health insurer in the United States, Mutual of Omaha, was the first to
try the Ornish Program, and results showed dramatic improvement in
patient health, as well as a dramatic increase in cost savings: Mutual
saved $5 for every $1 spent on the Ornish Program.
factors involved in weight loss, the Ornish Program resulted in an
increase in exercise from 1 1/2 hours per week to more than 3 1/2 hours
per week and a decrease in fat as percent of total calories to less than
Is this the trend? It is hard to say for sure, but
there may be as many as 25 other insurers now using the Ornish Program.
Will insurers take the next step and require overweight people to
do certain things? Will they, as William Shakespeare said, "Cry havoc,
and unleash the dogs or war? Where do you stand? How much do you weigh?
A kinder, gentler, weigh
While some are crying havoc, and
unleashing the dogs of war, others weigh in for a kinder, gentler
approach. This approach focuses more on exercise than dieting and
searches for exercises that fit the personalities. This approach also
makes use of what is called "functional" exercise, which strives to make
exercise part of the daily routine—not so much as going to a health
club, but in climbing stairs instead of taking escalators.
The first rule in "personalizing" an exercise routine
is discovering what you like to do (and what you can do) and what you
cannot stand. Dig down and figure out which types of exercise you enjoy
and don’t worry about what is fashionable. "Spinning" on stationary
bicycles may be all the rage in health clubs, but if sitting on a bike
and going nowhere doesn’t do it for you, stay away!
Here are some
exercise "types." Which one(s) fit you the best?
You enjoy people and interacting with them. Keeping
score or determining who is good and who is not so good is secondary to
you. If there is friction within the group while pursuing an activity,
you are not happy and may consider dropping out.
You need to get
involved in activities with others and in activities that are not
competition-driven. Obviously then, stay away from leagues or groups
that do "keep score." Group walkers would be a good fit, or bicycle
touring. Getting involved in "low-stress" exercise classes—check
community education—might also work. Finally, look for an activity in
which scores may be kept, but participants don’t take it too seriously.
This could be done with bowling, golf, or any sport with the "right
The Zen of exercise
You see exercise as a
way to relax and get "in touch" with yourself. You like to do things at
your own pace and have time to act on your own. You can be with others,
as long as the activities are "self-contained" to some degree.
First, look into activities you can do on your own and in your own way.
Walking is one option, as are cycling, hiking, and jogging. Working with
weights on your own, as well as classes in yoga, gymnastics, or tai chi
The winner’s circle
You push hard
and want everyone to know it. You have an edge you want to keep sharp
and you thrive during competition. On your own, you keep track of how
well you are doing and mark progress. If you have a "bad exercise" day,
you are somewhat disappointed. When you attain personal bests, you are
You need activities that can be measured, either against
others or against yourself. Any sort of league play—softball, bowling,
tennis—would do, as well as any type of organized races. If on your own,
pick exercises where you can record improvement. This means exercises
that call for speed or endurance.
An exercise renaissance
You can partake in any of the above; the main thing is not to get in a
rut. This means you will change your style from day-to-day or
week-to-week. You have no qualms about getting in a head-to-head
competition, but the next day might be happy going on a solitary walk,
or playing Frisbee at the family reunion.
Another avenue to exercise for those who are not fond of it is to
practice what is called "functional exercise." This is simply making
exercise part of your everyday routine, but not in the guise of going to
the health club, or "it’s time to jog." To make this effective, you
should get a total of about 30 minutes of exercise a day. To see if you
are doing this, answer the following questions "True" or "False":
- I take stairs instead of an elevator.
- I walk or bicycle to run short errands.
- I do my own housecleaning and laundry.
- I am on my feet a lot at my job.
- I do my own gardening and yard work.
- I play active games with my children.
- I park far from the store, not close.
- I sneak in an exercise or two while watching TV
- My hobbies involve physical activity.
- I get up and change the channel.
- I wash my own car.
- Seven or more "True": You are probably getting your 30 minutes of exercise
- Less than seven "True": Get moving!
What’s your excuse?
One of the first things you must do if you
want to lose weight is to not rely on a laundry list of common excuses.
Here are some points against some "I can’t lose weight" excuses:
But I don’t eat much—Maybe you do eat less than some people, but look
hard at what you are eating. Fats contain more calories than
protein or carbohydrates, so if you eat more fat but less total food
than a friend, you could well put on more pounds than your friend. In
other words, a bowl of potato chips puts on more calories than a bowl of
cereal. Also consider that, because carbohydrate calories are the body’s
preferred fuel, they will burn more easily than fat calories. Try
keeping a food diary and seeing how much of what foods you eat. If you
are overweight, chances are that you are getting a lot more fat than you
But I do exercise—Yes, but how much? Moderate exercise can forestall
some health problems, but to lose weight you have to burn off more
calories than you consume. Look at it this way: to burn off 100 calories
(one English muffin), you will have to walk quickly for 20 minutes. If
you drink a "Double Gulp," that’s some 500 calories. Do you walk quickly
100 minutes a day? Do you exercise that much?
But I have a slow metabolism—This can be true, but you can boost your
metabolic rate through exercise. A pound of muscles burns 30 to 50
calories a day and a pound of fat burns two calories a day. In other
words, the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn "doing
nothing." (A slow metabolism could also be related to a thyroid problem.
See a health professional.)
But we all gain weight as we age—This seems true, but do we gain more
weight because of biological systems or because we get lazier? People
generally get less exercise as they age, but do not cut back on
calories. This means added pounds. The loss of muscle mass also figures
in. As we saw above, the more muscle you have, the faster your
metabolism is. If you continue to exercise as you age, it is possible to
maintain the proper weight.
A woman’s body changes after childbirth—Not really. What is important
is that a woman’s focus may change, not her biological system. Women are
generally more concerned with their new child than with themselves. This
means less care in exercising and food intake, which may mean more
Is your reason for why you can’t lose weight here?
See it for what it is—an excuse—and then act. Lose weight!