Changing The Weight of the Nation
Do you care that researchers are projecting 42% of Americans to be obese by 2030? If I quote any other statistic about how obesity increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure, will you rethink your next meal choice? My guess is a no. Though it is helpful information, science won't change the weight of the nation. What will is a lifestyle change made by personal choice by millions of people for the rest of their lives. This Monday, policymakers, researchers, and healthcare professionals converged on Washington, DC for the Weight of the Nation 2012 Conference. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) presents the conference on obesity prevention and control. This year's theme is moving forward, reversing the trend.
Away with Weight Stigma
Railing on someone's weight plays a negative effect on that person's food choices. A Yale University study shows overweight people exposed to weight stigmatizing media coverage eat three times more than when they're exposed to a neutral message. The issue with many anti-obesity campaigns are that they are anti-obesity, rather than pro-health. There is a personal connection to food that has to do with our own daily pleasure and unfortunately has less to do with nutrition, calories, or weight. If campaigns to improve the rate of obesity do not demonstrate how someone's personal life will be impacted positively there's a disconnect that has to be addressed.
A New Look at Results
The first step to addressing the obesity problem is starting to look differently at success. Studies show an improvement in health can result from a weight loss of just 5 or 10% in obese patients. Why then do weight loss commercials continue to focus on 100-pound weight loss stories, or 20 pound losses in mere weeks? A new effort towards cheering on regular physical activity, good nutritious meals, and a weight loss of just one or two pounds a week is a must. The extreme of eating only 1200 calories a day for life is not realistic for the majority of the nation. It has to become ok to change your life for the better slowly. Drawing down calories by just 500 calories a day is no easy feat, but it would seem that seeing significant progress only comes from seeing numbers drop on the scale.
BMI and Beyond: A New Normal
Speaking of pounds, the very notion of obesity has to do with Body Mass Index, a number devised from your height and weight. A number that in and of itself is not a health indicator, until statistics are added to it. The fact that those whose BMI is above 30 are at an increased risk for disease is troubling, but it shouldn't mean hopelessness. For those who are morbidly obese, moving toward an obese status is something worth fighting for. For those who are overweight, not becoming obese should be a goal. While getting to a normal weight is generally the number those of us who are overweight shoot for, we have to also look at a weight range that points to better health outcomes. The goal is to get to a normal weight, but for some, a new normal, while not ideal, may be going from 240 pounds, to 200.
Watch and Learn?
While the conference is largely inaccessible to the general public, the CDC, along with the National Institutes of Health and Institute of Medicine have teamed with HBO to present their findings as a documentary. Their goal, according to their website, is to raise public awareness. The problem with issuing a documentary about obesity is that it doesn't meet people in their personal lives and speak to a solution on an individual basis. John Hoffman, the director of the series had this to say about the colossal job of changing the weight of the nation, "Over the course of human evolution, there has never been any reason to limit our food intake. In fact, it’s the opposite. There may be as many as 100 genes that favor food-seeking behavior." Making it easier to make healthier choices is the general strategy to improving the obesity picture, but will people truly reverse their behavior en masse? Some successful programs will be addressed in the film. Will you choose to watch, or not, and why? How can a film change a weighty issue for over 60% of the American population?
The four-part series will air on HBO May 14th and 15th at 8pm. For more information about the documentary click here.
What role do you think scientific findings, government policy, or community-based programs have in helping you maintain, lose, or gain weight? Explain what can be done to turn the tide for America's obesity problem