Skip to comments.America: Land of the Fat
Posted on 06/29/2003 5:42:00 PM PDT by SamAdams76
Mary Neal says she has the best of intentions when she goes out to eat, promising herself that this time she'll order a low-cal meal, like grilled chicken and a salad.
More often than not, though, when the waiter asks for her order, says Neal "I say cheeseburger and fries."
American adults are fatter than at any time in history. And their overweight kids are on track to grow up to be even fatter. Neal weighs about 340 pounds.
Obesity has become a national epidemic that rivals smoking as a cause of death, disability and soaring medical bills.
But while most Americans think overweight people simply lack willpower, a mountain of research says that just nagging people to diet and exercise is almost doomed to fail. The real problem is that we live in a society that relentlessly promotes overeating and inactivity.
"The culture has to change," said Marian Fitzgibbon of Northwestern University Medical School. "In a culture with virtually unlimited access to high-fat, good-tasting food in outrageous portions, with no reason to regularly exercise, people will be unable to maintain healthy weights."
To change our fat culture, obesity experts are pushing a broad range of controversial measures--including higher taxes on junk food, daily gym classes in schools and a ban on TV food ads directed at kids.
"The future is not hopeful unless we act now," obesity researchers wrote recently in the journal Science.
Two of every three adults are overweight. Nearly one in three is obese--at least 30 or 40 pounds overweight, depending on height.
The percentage of children 6 to 11 who are overweight has more than tripled in 30 years, to 15 percent. The adult obesity rate has doubled. At the current rate, nearly two of five adults will be obese by 2008.
300,000 deaths a year
Obesity increases the risk of more than a dozen health problems, ranging from excess facial hair to cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one in three American kids born in 2000 ultimately will develop diabetes because of eating too much and not exercising enough.
Neal, 52, suffers from four obesity-related conditions: type 2 diabetes, asthma, arthritis and high triglyceride levels, which might increase her risk of heart disease. The suburban woman knows she has to lose weight.
"Either I'm going to change things," she said, "or I'm not going to be around."
Obesity causes roughly 300,000 deaths in the United States each year--or about one every two minutes. That's nearly three times the number of deaths from AIDS, murders, car wrecks and breast cancer combined. Obesity expert Kevin Fontaine of Johns Hopkins University predicts that, within 10 or 20 years, obesity will overtake smoking as the leading cause of preventable death.
Obesity lowers life expectancy by as much as 22 percent, depending on age, weight and other factors. For example, an extremely obese white man in his 20s will lose 13 years, a recent study found.
Obesity causes more health problems than smoking, problem drinking or poverty, one study found. Another, published in the journal Health Affairs, found that obese people spend 37 percent more on medical bills--$732 a year.
With obesity-related health care costs now rivaling smoking costs, "It may be increasingly difficult to justify the disparity between the many interventions that have been implemented to reduce smoking rates and the paucity of interventions aimed at reducing obesity rates," researchers wrote in Health Affairs.
Obesity isn't a personal failing
Mary Neal's father was trim, but her mother, grandmothers, aunts and brother have been heavy. It's a good bet Neal's weight problem is partly genetic--she weighed 120 pounds at her First Communion. Like height, obesity runs in families. More than 250 genes are involved, and they are roughly 40 percent responsible for determining a person's weight.
Humans evolved fat genes during their hunter-gatherer period, when it was feast or famine. To help survive times of scarcity, early humans evolved a taste for energy-rich sugars and fats and the ability to efficiently convert these calories to body fat. But with the development of agriculture, food supplies became more consistent. To protect against obesity, humans began evolving lean genes that made the body less efficient at converting calories into body fat. Today, different people carry fat and lean genes in different combinations.
"Obesity is not a personal failing," Jeffrey Friedman of Rockefeller University wrote in the journal Science. "In trying to lose weight, the obese are fighting a difficult battle. It is a battle against biology, a battle that only the intrepid take on and one in which only a few prevail."
Technology keeps us off our feet
Neal tries to exercise five days a week. Three days, she works out on an exercise machine. Two days, she walks with her husband, Carlos, in a park near their Bridgeview home. It's just about the only walking Carlos Neal does. He drives everywhere--even two blocks to the corner store. "I don't think about walking," he said.
Of all the modern conveniences, the automobile is perhaps the greatest contributor to the obesity epidemic. Americans take fewer than 6 percent of their trips on foot. Even on destinations of less than one mile, we take 75 percent of trips by car.
Blame television, too. Even reading burns more calories. Also, many people munch in front of the tube, then buy the junk food that's advertised.
A recent study of more than 50,000 women found that increasing the amount of TV viewing by two hours a day increased the risk of obesity by 23 percent: Thirty percent of new cases of obesity could be prevented if women watched fewer than 10 hours of TV a week and walked briskly for 30 minutes a day.
Technology continues to engineer physical activity out of our lives. Thanks to drive-throughs, remote controls and e-mail, you can get a Big Mac without leaving your car, change the channel without getting off your La-Z-Boy and deliver a memo without leaving your desk. It adds up. Over the course of a year, you'll burn roughly 4,000 fewer calories taking escalators and elevators and 800 fewer calories using the remote.
"The dark side of a technologically advanced society is obesity," said Dr. Samuel Klein of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity.
Just one in four adults does the recommended minimum of 20 minutes of vigorous activity three days a week or 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Twenty-nine percent don't exercise at all.
Even the workplace is becoming more sedentary. Early in his career, Carlos Neal walked all day delivering the mail. Now, he delivers letters from a postal vehicle.
Sixty percent of the rise in obesity can be traced to declining physical activity at home and at work, according to a study by economists Thomas Philipson of the University of Chicago and Darius Lakdawalla of the Rand corporation. The other 40 percent, they estimate, results from agricultural innovations that have lowered food prices. Food is cheap, delicious and sold everywhere. A Coca-Cola annual report boasted the company's ice-cold brands are "within reach wherever you look: at the supermarket, the video store, the soccer field, the gas station--everywhere."
Carlos Neal, 55, has gained 80 pounds since he married Mary 34 years ago. He's trying to slim down from 235 pounds, and recently lost a few pounds. Still, it's difficult to resist the cornucopia of sugar and fat. For lunch, he sometimes eats three Hostess desserts--Suzy Qs, doughnuts and a fruit pie. And he loves fast food. At Burger King, he'll order a Double Whopper, large fries and vanilla shake--a total of 2,090 calories.
"I don't deny myself this stuff, which is ruining me," he said.
How to cure the culture of fat
Mary Neal is an area captain for the support group Take Off Pounds Sensibly. With the help of TOPS, she has lost 45 to 55 pounds three times. But, each time, she gained it all back.
The same thing happens to at least 80 percent of people who lose weight. Given the widespread inability to keep pounds off, obesity experts argue that people can't fight fat by themselves. They need society's help.
In a provocative article, obesity experts Marion Nestle of New York University and Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest have proposed a broad set of social strategies to change the fat culture.
Among their proposals:
*Require daily physical education in all grades through high school, extending the school day if necessary.
*Ban junk-food TV ads aimed at kids under 10.
*Require chain restaurants to list calorie contents on menus or menu boards and nutrition labels on wrappers. Require print ads to disclose calorie contents.
*Provide higher food-stamp benefits for recipients who buy fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other healthful foods.
*Ban autos from downtown areas.
*Build more bike paths, recreation centers, swimming pools, parks and sidewalks, funded by taxes on junk food, TVs and cars. A 2/3-cent tax on each 12-ounce can of soda; a 5 percent tax on new TVs and video equipment; a penny-a-gallon gas tax, or a $65 tax on new cars would raise $1 billion.
Several states are considering taxes on soft drinks and snacks. But the Grocery Manufacturers of America said such taxes discriminate against poor people, who spend a larger percentage of their income on food.
"You can't mandate good eating habits," said grocery association spokeswoman Stephanie Childs. "Government can't force us to eat the foods we 'should' eat."
Mary Neal's not giving up
Mary Neal's first diet failed because she went about it wrong, starving all day, then gorging at night on a burger, shake and fries. Her second effort faltered when she turned to comfort foods to cope with the stress of caring for her ailing parents. The third time, she said, "I just got tired of it."
But Neal isn't giving up. She recently began her fourth attempt to lose weight. Now, when she goes out, she eats only half her meal. At breakfast, she'll order fruit with her eggs, rather than hash browns. At lunch, she puts mustard on her sandwich, instead of mayonnaise. She and her husband have stopped going to fast-food restaurants, and he has cut back on Hostess junk food.
A month into her fourth attempt, Neal has lost more than 17 pounds. She hopes to get below 200, then keep the weight off for good.
"This time," she said, "I think it's going to be different."
FAT--AND HAPPY WITH HERSELF
Carolyn Schmidt, who is very heavy, was buying chips and dip for a party when another shopper approached, started putting Schmidt's snacks back on the shelf and nagged, "You should not be eating these."
Schmidt was hardly shocked. That sort of thing actually happens to her a lot. When she goes out to eat, strangers urge her to try their diet plans. She's convinced that she lost out on job interviews once prospective employers saw how big she is. And she dreads going to the doctor, knowing she'll be badgered to lose weight.
Schmidt, who lives in Tinley Park, belongs to the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, whose aim is to "eliminate discrimination based on body size." In a society that worships thin, members of the group have a different view--that it's OK to be fat.
"I've always been a large individual," said Rebecca Jedlicka, president of the Chicago chapter, which claims about 75 members. "To imagine myself thin is like imagining myself tall. It's just not me. I'm happy with who I am, and my husband is happy with who I am."
Being fat has its advantages. "It gives you a certain presence, and a certain power in that presence," Jedlicka said, and little kids "really love cuddling up to fat people."
The fat-acceptance group dismisses reams of studies about the health risks of obesity. Yo-yo dieting is a bigger risk than being heavy, the group argues, and fat people are made to feel so bad when they go to the doctor that many hesitate to seek treatment when they need it.
And thin people also get diseases associated with obesity, Jedlicka said, such as cancer and heart attacks.
"It's too easy to blame everything on size," she said.
HUGE PORTIONS CREATING HUGE PEOPLE
White Hen was offering customers a bargain: a 64-ounce cup of Pepsi for 49 cents, the same price as a 22-ounce cup.
The recent promotion illustrates value marketing, in which you get more calories for little or no extra money, possible because the drink constitutes a small percentage of the total cost of the product, which also covers things like labor, advertising and packaging.
Such "supersizing" encourages people to gorge. Psychologically, one three-ounce jumbo Kit-Kat seems like less than two 1.5-ounce regular Kit-Kats.
Between 1977 and 1996, portion sizes in homes and restaurants increased for desserts, soft drinks, salty snacks, fruit drinks, french fries, hamburgers, cheeseburgers and Mexican food, according to a recent study. Only pizza portions got smaller.
Another study found portion sizes of many foods and beverages are two to five times larger than when the items were introduced. The original Hershey's bar weighed 0.6 of an ounce. Today, Hershey bars range from 1.6 to 8 ounces. McDonald's originally sold one size of french fries--2.4 ounces. Today, that's a small fry order. The supersize is 7 ounces.
"This trend toward larger marketplace portions parallels the rising rates of obesity," an American Dietetic Association spokesman said.
10,000 STEPS TO BETTER HEALTH
Most people could prevent weight gain just by walking an extra mile each day, according to a recent study in the journal Science.
James Hill, of the University of Colorado, and colleagues calculated that 90 percent of Americans could hold the line by eating 100 fewer calories per day or by burning 100 more calories. That's not enough to lose weight, but at least you won't get fatter.
One hundred calories amounts to 4 to 5 percent of the daily intake for a typical adult, who eats 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day. It equals about three bites of a premium fast-food hamburger.
To burn 100 calories, you could walk a mile, which takes most people 15 or 20 minutes. And you don't have to do it all at once.
Add steps throughout your day. Take the stairs, park at the far end of the lot, walk on your coffee break, don't use the car for trips under one mile, return your grocery cart to the store, and avoid drive-throughs, airport people movers and TV remotes.
Depending on your stride, one mile generally equals 2,000 to 2,500 steps. You can keep track with a step counter (pedometer), a battery-operated device that clips to your waist. Basic models sell for $25 or less at sporting-goods stores and on the Internet.
Inactive people take 2,000 to 3,000 steps a day. People trying to lose weight should increase their daily count by 500 steps every week until they reach 10,000, says Dr. Robert Kushner of Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Wellness Institute.
LOSING WEIGHT WITH DAD
Like his father, Jeremy Wintroub has been overweight his whole life.
And now, like his dad, Jeremy is doing something about it.
Last year, Greg Wintroub enrolled in a weight-loss program at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Wellness Institute. When the pounds began melting away, he persuaded his son to join, too.
Greg Wintroub, 56, has lost 90 pounds and is down to 310. His son, 24, has lost about 50 pounds and is down to about 280.
"We compare notes and are very supportive," Jeremy Wintroub said. "There is even a little healthy competitiveness."
The father no longer eats 16-ounce steaks, and the son has given up McDonald's Double Quarter Pounders.
They both walk more and wear pedometers to count their steps. And Greg Wintroub no longer summons assistants to his office at All Products Automotive in Chicago, even though he's the boss. He goes to their offices, which boosts his step count.
LOSING WEIGHT WITH THE DOG
Just like their owners, too many dogs and cats are getting fat.
Between one-third and one-half of all pets are estimated to be overweight. Like people, they eat too much and don't get enough exercise. The health risks are the same, too: heart disease, breathing difficulties, diabetes, arthritis.
Weight problems are more likely in pets that have been neutered or are older than four years old. Mixed cat breeds are more susceptible, as are Labradors, cocker spaniels, hounds and shelties.
In Arlington Heights, Linda Eckles' dog, a three-year-old, long-hair dachshund named Hogan, got up to as much as 17 pounds--more than 20 percent above the dog's ideal weight. "He likes to lay around the house," Eckles said.
Eckles is overweight, too. So she and Hogan enrolled last year in a Northwestern Memorial Hospital study dubbed "People and Pets Exercising Together."
Studies have shown you're more likely to lose weight if you do it with a friend. Dr. Robert Kushner, who runs Northwestern's Wellness Institute, wanted to see if the same would hold true for those who lose weight with a pet.
The one-year study is comparing people trying to lose weight on their own with people trying to lose weight with their dogs. At the six-month mark, dog owners had lost slightly more than the other group, though the amount wasn't statistically significant. But the dogs are doing great: 79 percent had reached their target weight in four months.
Eckles takes Hogan for a 15- or 20-minute walk four or five days a week. So far, she's lost 17 pounds. Hogan has lost three pounds and reached his target weight.
"It's been very good for me," Eckles says. "I was just about as lazy as Hogan. I think everyone should go out and take their dog for a walk."
Being fat kills 300,000 more Americans a year than marijuana. We need to outlaw being fat!
And if McDonald's refused to sell you or doesn't serve you fast enough or their hot coffee is hot, you can sue again.
All of the above for just $9.99! And don't forget, they give you a huge plate of tortilla chips before the meal even comes with free refills!
Now three months ago, before this diet and exercise madness began, I would of easily packed this away as well as the tortilla chips. And then I might have ordered dessert and an appetizer as well.
Suffice to say that I only ate about half the food they brought. Until I put myself on a diet and watched what I ate, I never realized just how insanely huge restaurant portions really were.
I've been an American for 30 years (born in AZ) and this never ceases to amaze me.
You are right. I've been visting the South every year for pretty much my entire life (most of my family lives in Alabama and Georgia). During my childhood, almost everybody down there was rail thin and heavily tanned (weatherbeaten). Nowadays, I dare say that the obesity problem is more pronounced down there than it is even up north.
I was just down there last week and I noticed a lot of obesity (something I pay more attention to now that I'm losing weight myself). By my reckoning, the biggest contributing factor is air conditioning and satellite TV. When I was a child, nobody had air conditioning and the nearest TV station was in Birmingham and it hardly came in at all. So we always played outside. No matter how hot it was outside, sitting under a shade tree was always cooler than sitting inside. These days, most of my family down there sits inside all day watching the 300 channels of TV that is now available by satellite.\
I brought my son with me on this trip and he had a hard time getting anybody to come outside and play with him. They just don't do that much anymore.
Also, I should mention that I did 6-8 mile walks every morning and I didn't see a single soul. All I got was a bunch of dogs chasing after me!
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I want you to know that I have discovered your secret formula for weight loss and I plan on stealing it. I too will make something so truly disgusting in taste that it makes the victim... err, uhhh... "dieter" not want to eat anything because they're physically nauseous.
This morning I defecated an exact replica of the bar I ate last night. I plan on taking my feces and your bar to shopping malls and asking people to take a bite of each and see if they can tell the difference.
It is true that my butt won't be able to produce as many "Taste Sensations" as your company can, but at over $2 a bar it will be a nice second income for me. Like your company, I will probably only be able to sell one bar to a customer before they decide never to buy from me again -- so I'll have to keep moving all of the time. They'll probably make a movie about me.
Soon to be your competitor...
Being recently divorced hi tech professionally and going from earning 100+ grand to earning 0 grand for a year is a great way to lose weight!
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