Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Fri, Jan. 24

Column: It's high time to cut the fat

One of every four Americans is fat. Not plump. Not chubby. Not flabby. Not stout. Fat.

Health advocates describe the situation as a national epidemic.

Behind their backs, the overweight are called a variety of names. The tactless descriptions can be heard in supermarkets, clothing outlets and other stores in Prescott - to say nothing of the streets and parks.

Walk along Whiskey Row and glance at the legs of some of the ladies who wear shorts and waddle deeply. Is this what America calls fashion? Women are generally flabbier than men and some should shun shorts.

Americans are getting even fatter. Some 2.4 million Americans became obese from 2007 to 2009. That increases the U.S. total to 72.5 million - 26.7 percent of our population. We have reached obesity rates of more than 30 percent in nine states. Fortunately, Arizona is not one of them. Colorado has the lowest rate of obese adults and Mississippi the highest.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reports that obesity rates have doubled in adults and tripled in children over the past few decades. If this continues, more people will get sick and die from the complications of obesity - heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. The medical costs of this have soared to $147 billion a year.

Obesity is defined as having an excessive amount of body fat. Physicians use a formula based on height and weight, called the Body Mass Index, to define fat.

Obesity occurs when an individual consumes more calories than he or she burns. That means eating too much and exercising too little. Restaurants are now subject to U.S. Food and Drug Administration calorie counters and they will soon be joined by thousands of other public places, including airplanes, trains, movie theaters and convenience stores. The FDA began its poundage program by instituting nutrition-labeling requirements in the 1990s. Jokesters quipped: How do you label a hot dog stand?

Age brings on obesity because a good number of older people tend to eat as much as they did when young. Obesity tends to run in families. Lifestyle behavior - overeating with little physical activity - is considered very significant. Psychological factors are also important - eating to avoid sadness, anger, boredom - or plain laziness. Steroids and antidepressants cause excessive weight gain.

One of the worst aspects of obesity is the emotional suffering that it causes. The person is often stereotyped and faces discrimination in social and work settings. This torment includes shame, rejection or depression - sometimes all three.

Even a modest diet and exercise can improve one's health. Eat only at a table. No snacks. Eat smaller portions of food like most Europeans and Asians do. Look for slow but steady progress. Losing weight requires perseverance - not speed. Extra weight puts added stress on all parts of the body. To manage stress, try meditation or yoga. Join a support group or try psychotherapy.

Exercise is great for lifting your mood - walking 30 minutes four days a week - and should slim you down. Keep a diet and exercise diary.

Weight-loss drugs are available. Also surgery if you are very obese. Extreme obesity can lead to a decrease of oxygen in the blood. This causes a person to feel sleepy during the day. It may well lead to high blood pressure and pulmonary hypertension. If left untreated, these can lead to heart failure.

Determining your problems early will be simpler and safer than trying to fix them after you have gained too much weight. Consult your doctor before starting any regimen.

The saddest part of all this is seeing children who are obese. McDonald's and other fast food restaurants are not guilty of most of the blame. It's the parents' and schools' fault, much more than Big Macs and kids.

For old-timers, they should remember that obesity may lead to reduced life expectancy. Four extra inches around the waistline increases the risk of earlier dying between 15 and 25 percent. For men, a high waistline is 40.2 inches, and for women 34.6 inches.

A friend recently leaned over and whispered to me, "Muffins kill."

The remark seemed quite humorous. Think about it: A muffin can kill you. Even funnier was the fact that we were having some rich ice cream together.

J.J. Casserly is a longtime newsman and author.

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