Tonawanda News


September 26, 2010

Is it possible for us to fight the fat?

NORTH TONAWANDA — Obesity, one of the primary targets of health officials at all levels, is proving to be a tougher adversary than originally thought.

While state and federal leaders fight to increase the nutritional value of school lunches, the Centers for Disease Control recently announced that no state met a federal goal of reducing the prevalence of obesity to 15 percent (New York’s obesity rate is 24.2 percent).

At its simplest level, obesity (defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher) is the result of ingesting more calories than are burned off. While Americans have proven overeating is easy, taking off some of those excess pounds is exponentially tougher.

So what can be done? Ultimately, it’s up to each individual to decide to make the effort to lose weight, something that is impossible for any person or group to inspire everybody to do. But there are ways to help.

Develop good habits and find support

The first step is hardest, but it can be done, according to Ida Shapiro.

The Amherst residents has run Ideal Weight classes throughout the Tonawandas and Amherst for more than 45 years, including a weekly gathering at Zion United Church of Christ in the Town of Tonawanda (636-3698). For her, the first step involved eliminating her dependence on diet pills, which proved difficult.

“I was 35 pounds overweight at the time,” said Shapiro, who at age 79 still manages at least three classes per week. “I finally joined a group for support ... my attitude became much more positive.”

But her reliance on the pills died slowly. She waited a year before finally managing to flush them down the toilet.

“I had a fear of leaning back on them as a crutch, but I never did,” she said.

Instead, her support groups became her crutch. Through them, she said she learned proper eating and exercise habits, learned how to compliment herself and found a venue at which to share her feelings on controlling her weight. Since people with poor habits might not have sufficient support at home, and since physical changes don’t happen overnight, that encouragement needs to come from somewhere, she said.

“You have to accept that we need to make some very important changes in our lifestyle,” she said. “Be patient. (Weight loss) will happen if you really persevere ... the support you get from these groups is infectious.”

You can win friends with salad

Also as part of its recent report, the CDC announced that only 32.5 percent of American adults eat at least two servings of fruit per day, and that only 26.3 percent eat at least three servings of vegetables. These numbers fell far short of the CDC goals of 75 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

Supermarkets can help themselves while helping others and make these numbers climb, according to Cheryl Anderson, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She told Gannett News Service that markets and other venues could host cooking and tasting sessions to introduce the public to new produce, which would also help those venues’ bottom lines by moving more merchandise.

Parents need to do their part, as well, according to Jennifer Foltz, co-author of the CDC’s report. Since eating habits are learned, parents who introduce produce to their children help foster a love of fruits and vegetables, she said.

“If the home environment is such that the refrigerator and pantry are full of junk food instead of fruits and vegetables, the child grows up feeling that’s the way he or she should eat,” agreed Dr. Teresa Quattrin, a professor in the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

While Shapiro generally doesn’t count children among her clients, she encourages any parents in her groups to take what they’ve learned home with them so as to share positive habits.

“The food industry constantly makes it more difficult for people,” said Shapiro, who counted the barrage of fast-food TV ads and the recent National Buffalo Wing Festival among the many temptations that exist. “Healthy habits carry over to the family.”

 Quattrin concurred while adding that too much of any food — even a healthy one — is detrimental.

“People are eating more, and eating less healthy food high in calories,” said Quattrin, who’s leading a UB study on obesity prevention among young children. “In our research, we looked at the food intake of children 2 to 5 years old, and seven out of 10 were consuming significantly more calories than the recommended 1,200 per day. There are children who eat a whole carton of strawberries, and their parents think that’s OK.”

Feel the burn

Improving eating habits is generally easier to achieve than its evil twin in the realm of weight loss, exercise. But putting in the work can offer immediate satisfaction as well as help lead to long-term results, Shapiro said.

“Exercise raises endorphins,” she said, citing the body’s “feel-good” hormone that’s released after physical activity. “People are not aware of ... the benefits, physically and psychologically, of exercise.”

But exercise need not be a treacherous task, according to Quattrin.

“Park a little farther away from the supermarket. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk to the store or a friend’s house,” she said. “These are simple steps that can ameliorate and prevent problems.”

But that hard work might involve more than just the occasional game of “Wii Fit,” according to a University of Minnesota report. The report on the Nintendo weight-loss video game found that the game, when used an average of 22 minutes per day, failed to yield any significant changes in fitness or body composition (the study did show an aerobic benefit for children, however). Rather, games such as “Wii Fit” are meant to be used as one part of a fitness regimen, the study found.

Call upon man’s best friend

Recent Australian research indicates that having a dog in the house can significantly reduce a child’s odds of being obese.

Dr. Jo Salmon, a professor of exercise and nutrition at Deakin University in Victoria, Australia, led the research team that investigated the correlation between owning a dog and engaging in unhealthy behaviors.

In an announcement released last month, his team found that children ages 5 and 6 who owned a dog were 50 percent less likely to be obese than non-dog owners. The research also indicated that owning a dog is an antidote of sorts to junk food, video games and excess TV viewing.

“We looked at whether or not the frequency of dog walking might explain this association of perhaps all children who own a dog or walking more frequently with their dog,” he said in a release. “But this didn’t explain it, so the way we interpret our data is we think maybe they are outside playing with the dog and just spending more energy generally and playing with the dog and, in fact, it’s not through dog walking, but just through playing.”

Get a good night’s rest

Making sure your young children get sufficient rest will help them stay fit later in life, recent research indicates.

The study, conducted by scientists at the University of Washington and UCLA, looked at children ages 1 month to 13 years who were separated into two groups by age. The researchers found that a lack of sufficient nighttime sleep in the younger group led to a higher risk of obesity as adolescence approached.

“Sleep duration is a modifiable risk factor with potentially important implications for obesity prevention and treatment,” authors Janice Bell of UW and Frederick Zimmerman of UCLA told Gannett News Service. “Insufficient nighttime sleep among infants and preschool-aged children appears to be a lasting risk factor for subsequent obesity, while contemporaneous sleep appears to be important to weight status in adolescents.”

Why it’s important

Among the plethora of health issues that can derive from obesity are knee and back pain, high blood pressure, cardiovascular deficiencies, diabetes and sleep apnea. In addition, Quattrin said, obesity can lead to poor self-esteem and social issues.

“It’s shortening lives,” Shapiro said of obesity. “Doctors would be multi-millionaires if they could cure this. But it’s an addiction.”

As such, early intervention is far easier than trying to adjust later, Quattrin said.

“Studies have shown that even 2- to 5-year-old children who are obese have as high as an 80 percent chance of suffering from obesity in adulthood if their parents are overweight,” she said. “Once the body is used to eating a certain amount of food, the stomach no longer sends the proper signals to the brain to say that you’re full. So when you try to change habits, it’s a struggle.”

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