Rethinking Healthcare

The war on obesity still being lost

The war on obesity still being lost

Posting in Design

This is a war that can be won. You just have to be persistent, committed, and make what you do as comfortable a part of your life as you can.

I went to my local YMCA this morning to find it had already been overrun by the "resolutionaries."

People who had made a New Year's Resolution to get fit had jammed in when the doors opened at 5:30. Every machine was taken within minutes. Veteran excercisers interviewed afterward said they had never seen it so crowded.

Of course by the time I got in, around 7 AM, I was able to get right on my favorite elliptical. Don't worry, I said as I left. They'll be gone by February.

Which is the problem. Obesity in the U.S. continues to rise. It's increasingly being normalized with "plus-size" models, stores and media, as well as continuing claims that if you don't like fatties you're a bigot.

So I'm a bigot.

Don't get me wrong. You can be both too rich and too thin (Paris Hilton) but America is going broke treating the resulting diabetes and heart disease.

With the turning of the calendar the usual quick fixes are being offered:

  • Vivus has submitted an application to have its Qnexa recognized as a treatment for obesity.
  • Two other drugs are in the waiting room -- Contrave from Orexigen and Loracaserin from Arena Pharmaceuticals.
  • Mississippi is considering a two cents per ounce tax on corn syrup used in drinks like Coca-Cola. The state has the nation's highest rate of childhood obesity -- 17.3%.
  • A survey of fitness trainers shows time and money are the key factors driving exercise trends --there is less of both.
  • That's just one of 10 trends identified by the American Council on Exercise. Others include integration of games like Wii Fit into exercise clubs, more boomer-conscious exercise plans, and more technology-intense approaches like Fitlinxx. (Full disclosure -- I use Fitlinxx and like it.)

Actually my teenage son came up with his own program a few months ago, which has already cut 4 inches off his waistline and made him easier to live with all around.

Walking. "I'm going for a walk," he says once or twice a day, returning an hour or more later. Walking is easy exercise, it clears the head, it's natural for most people, it costs almost nothing (except sneakers) and it can be done in any weather. My son likes the solitude, but bring your iPod if you like.

Which leads me to the more systemic problems hampering the war on obesity.

  1. Suburban neighborhoods aren't designed for walking. If cul de sacs force all traffic onto a few major streets walkers can't go anywhere without breathing exhaust. Many suburbs also lack sidewalks. It's scandalous.
  2. Urban neighbors are often good food deserts. If the only food within walking distance is fast food, or salty and sugary snacks from a store that specializes in beer, fortified wine and lottery tickets, your battle of the bulge may be lost before it starts.

But for now, do your best. The life you save may be your own. And let me know how things are going. I waited 50 years before getting serious about my fitness, but now I'm in better shape than I was at 25. And I turn 55 next week.

This is a war that can be won. You just have to be persistent, committed, and make what you do as comfortable a part of your life as you can.

When fitness is no longer a sacrifice, when it becomes a natural habit, you'll be amazed at how good you can feel.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure