War on Fat

War on Fat

Sound the alarm!  The war on fat has been declared!

Last September, 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 1/2 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.

The 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 billion.
  • 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 programs.

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 dollars.

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.

The largest 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.

Specific to 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 10 percent.

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.

Know thyself

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?

The social butterfly

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 people.”

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 are possibilities.

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 thrilled.

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.

Functional exercise

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 a day.
  • 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 think.

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 weight.

Is your reason for why you can’t lose weight here? See it for what it is—an excuse—and then act. Lose weight!

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