Monday, September 5, 2011

The Futility of Anti-Obesity Campaigns: Unwelcome Facts About Reality

INTRODUCTION: Few lifestyle topics attract more words than nutrition and within the topic of nutrition, the obesity issue gets a lot of if not most of the attention. Whether the focus is weight loss, optimal health or some related nutritional issue, this seems to be the case.

Historically, nutritional advice and solutions offered for problem states have been more complex than need be. The science behind fundamentals of wise dining is clear. Key principles are neither mysterious nor uncertain. No additional rain forests should be sacrificed for more books (and dissertations) on optimal nutrition.

A sound understanding of wise dining invites an overview of foundation realities. These include unconventional explanations of why so many Americans are fat, what foods make the most difference for better and worse, the pace of body change, misplaced fears about terrorism and the downside of polite public service messages about obesity. Brief summaries on these matters will demonstrate the futility of obesity campaigns as not launched by public health authorities. This essay offers a few unwelcome facts about reality versus how obesity is currently addressed. These observations are based upon findings from multiple recent scientific findings, including a detailed long-term analysis of factors that influence weight gain conducted at Harvard University over the course of two decades. The Harvard research, known as the Nurses' Health Study, involved 120,877 nurses, doctors, dentists and veterinarians who, at the start of the research period, were healthy, not obese or otherwise suffering from any known medical problems. Every two years, the study subjects completed detailed questionnaires about their weight, eating and other habits. The findings were published in June 2011 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

WHY THE UNPRECEDENTED OBESITY? While genetic inclinations may account for weight gain for some, other factors are usually more consequential. Americans who were lean and mean in their youth gain weight over the years little by little and bit by bit. This occurs for other than genetic reasons - influences that are largely social, economic and cultural. All these determinants are reflected in one key bottom-line fact - calories taken in are out of proportion to calories expended. Translated into simplest language, it comes down to this: Too much food and too little exercise is guaranteed to make you fat, eventually. "Eventually" usually sets in by middle age and gets worse after that.

If the obesity epidemic could be explained in a sentence, that sentence would be something like this: "We exercise way too little but the diets we favor constitute an even 'weightier' problem."

FOODS FOR BETTER, FOODS FOR WORSE! Comprehensive studies done at Harvard University, referenced at the end of this commentary, suggest what most wellness promoters have advocated for decades, namely, that exercise and nutrition are the foundation variables for effective weight management. However, other factors affect both in dramatic ways, especially sleep, the company kept, alcohol intake and other lifestyle factors, particularly excessive TV and self-abuse. ("Self-abuse" means smoking, not masturbation.)

I was delighted to find that moderation in all things was shown NOT to be a good idea and the same can now be said, with supportive evidence to back it up, about dieting and other simplistic notions, such as counting calories and avoiding "fatty" foods. The guiding phrase that governs these issues always has been and remains "it depends." Short, spiffy-sounding rules mean little out of context with other variables, which make a key difference concerning health and weight gain over time for better or worse. In medicine, there are no magic bullets - and the same applies to nutrition concerning weight management.

Some foods (e.g., potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages and red meats) are really, really bad. While the best course is to largely avoid the real stinkers, if your taste buds are undisciplined and you simply can not resist putting serious crap in your mouth, at least take remedial steps to mitigate the damage. Such steps include extra exercise in the days before and after such reckless indulgences, and loading up on the best foods (e.g., fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and yogurt) prior to and after going on a junk bender.

REALTY CREEPS UP, NEVER LEAPS ON, YOUR BODY. Fat does not happen overnight - or in a week or a month. However, it's sneaking up on you if you are not active. By the time you realize its gaining, it has already settled in your stomach, thighs and ass - and it's nearly too late to do much about it. Making a comeback to normal, or better yet, a fit and functional attractive body is a hard road. You can do it, others have done it but it's just so much easier and more rational not to let reality sneak up on you in the first place. Reality, of course, is fat.

FAT IS PROBABLY A GREATER THREAT TO YOU THAN AL-QAEDA. In the sense that fat is more likely to get to you and do some serious damage than any Al-Qaeda maniac (unless you vacation in Pakistan), you should take the dangers from fat seriously and employ evasive action. No more effective deterrent exists than a wellness lifestyle.

I don't like to dwell on the dark side or negative consequences; it is pleasanter and more effective to focus on the positive, joyful and self-reinforcing positive returns from creating and sustaining a wellness mindset and habit pattern. But, sometimes I can't help it so let me simply note that fat in excess is a high-risk fast track to a host of very unpleasant states. For women, these dark side states include but are not limited to heart disease, diabetes, stroke and breast cancer and for men, high risks for heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer. You can use your imagination for the bright side payoffs of avoiding overweight via sound diet and vigorous exercise. However, I'll add one that appeals to vanity - you will always look better when trim than bloated and you won't have as much expense or frustration buying new stuff all the time because your wardrobe no longer fits.

BEING NICE MAY NOT BE THE BEST APPROACH. Structural changes in the culture will be the surer path to obesity reduction than a continued barrage of health education messages from governmental and non-profit institutions. The epidemic of fat that afflicts sufferers and society, the immense costs of treatments and other burdens is well beyond personal action to reverse. People just can't do it, that is, manage wellness lifestyles. The facts of human nature, combined with affluence and the power of big business, overwhelm the slim chances consumers might have had for choosing and sustaining wise lifestyle choices. In short, it's too easy to get fat, too hard to become and stay fit. As noted Aussie nutrition expert Glenn Cardwell has shown, "we love easy - and society now offers nothing BUT easy." In America and other Western nations, nearly everyone can afford (or at least manage access to) energy expenditure substitutes (e.g., cell phones, television, donuts and so on) and democracy assures us the right to ruin ourselves if we choose to do so, which most do.

So, match all these obesity-inducing factors against public service campaigns that offer information (e.g., a model plate to replace a model food pyramid) and what are the chances of arresting the spread of the national lard index? Pretty close to zero, don't you think?

Mr. Cardwell does recognize two variables that history shows always create an average decline in body weight, but neither seems very desirable: War and famine. Both are always attended by other costs or perturbations even worse than an obese society. Quoting Cardwell: "Put another way, there is no obesity solution that has a respect for life. Obesity is the price you pay to live in a free, affluent democratic country."

Well, don't let me discourage you. Do what you can to stay well, fit and focused on look on the bright side of life.

Publisher of the ARDELL WELLNESS REPORT (AWR) - a weekly electronic newsletter devoted to commentaries on current issues that affect personal and social well being from a quality of life perspective. The emphasis is on REAL wellness, which is also the topic of Don's latest book. Read about it here - https://www.createspace.com/3478226 - The "REAL" acronym reflects key issues embraced and advanced in Don's philosophy, namely, Reason, Exuberance, Athleticism and Liberty. Sample copy of Don's latest edition by request. If you like it, you can sign up - the price is right - free. Contact Don at awr.realwellness@gmail.com


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