According to recent figures, about 129.6 million Americans (or 64.5% of the adult population) are overweight or obese. The number has continued to increase since 1976, and the trend is not slowing down. In addition, poor diet and physical inactivity accounted for close to 400,000 deaths in the year 2000? approximately 17% of all deaths. Obesity is the greatest and gravest health problem in the United States today?it accounts for an incredible 1000 preventable deaths every day.
Overweight people are much more likely to get heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, joint pain and disease, several types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimates that almost 90% of all people newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, affecting all age groups, including children.
Childhood obesity is of particular concern. The rates doubled from 1980 to 1994 and have continued to rise since then. About 15.6% of American children between the ages of 12 and 19 years were obese in 2002?up from 6.1% in 1974, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fast-food consumption, poor food selection, and large portion sizes, as well as inactivity, have contributed to weight gain in children and adults. A major cause of inactivity is television viewing?about one third of the population spends more than 5 hours a day watching TV. As people age, they also get less daily physical activity, tend to eat more, and gain weight. The metabolic rate slows down with age, and older people do not burn the extra calories.
There is no quick solution for losing weight. You must burn more calories than you take in. Too often, people who are told to lose weight have difficulty doing so, even though they know that losing weight can prevent health problems. Anyone with diabetes should be aware that weight loss can help control the condition.
A good diet and a lifestyle plan are essential. The plan should begin with learning how to handle stress, developing new eating habits, and starting a moderate and reasonable exercise program.
Here are some guidelines taken from 101 Weight Loss Tips for Preventing and Controlling Diabetes. The principles apply whether or not you have diabetes:
Exercise burns fat and calories. Almost everyone will benefit from a few low-intensity workouts each week, such as walking or cycling. Follow these tips:
Exercise has a number of benefits besides weight loss. It can actually lower cholesterol. (Obesity raises the levels of total cholesterol.)
Keep a record of your physical activity. It will provide good feedback on progress. In addition, measure your hips, waist, and thighs. Muscle weighs more than fat, and if you do not see an immediate weight change there should be a reduction in measurements.
Millions of Americans think a lot about food, are frustrated that they do not eat the way they should, and are unhappy with their health or appearance. According to Dr. David L. Katz, coauthor of the book The Way to Eat, Americans live in a nutritional environment that does not promote healthful eating.
As mentioned above, people should adopt a sensible eating program. It should include a diet that is rich in grains, vegetables, and fruit; moderate in protein and total fat; balanced in fat type (saturated and unsaturated); and abundant in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Reducing the amount of calories consumed on a daily basis is the key to weight loss. A dietitian can help create a meal plan that will work best for you. Ask your doctor for a referral, or check the American Dietetic Association's Web site, www.eatright.com.
Remember that a good diet program also includes drinking enough water to wash the foods we eat through the system. The recommended intake of water for an adult is 8 glasses (64 ounces) a day. Dieters also should consider taking a multivitamin/ mineral supplement each day to make up for decreased food intake. Your pharmacist can suggest the best choices.
Where to Find More Information
The ADA has information and programs to help you achieve a healthier diet, get fit, and lose weight. You can reach the ADA at 800-DIABETES or at www.diabetes.org. Other sites include www.dietwatch.com and www.webdietitian.com. There are also a number of newsletters with nutritional information, including the Berkeley Wellness Letter, Consumer Reports on Health and Environmental Nutrition, and the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter. Most health newsletters have their own Web sites too.
Mr. Sherman is president of Sherman Consulting Services Inc.