Friday, December 15, 2006

Obesity Solutions Should Be 'Reasonably' Realistic

Sir George and Dr. Gruer create list of what we should "reasonably do"

This Times Online story about a new report from health leaders in the UK detailing their proposed list of actions for dealing with the ever-increasing obesity problem proves yet again that the people making these decisions about our weight and health are completely clueless about why obesity even exists in the first place and what to actually do about it.

Professor Sir George Alberti, the national director for emergency care in the UK and emeritus professor of medicine at Newcastle University, as well as Dr. Laurence Gruer, director of public health science at NHS Health Scotland, led a team of health experts who sought to come up with their own solutions to the obesity epidemic that were published in a report called "Obesity—can we turn the tide?" in the December 16, 2006 issue of the British Medical Journal.

This panel of so-called health experts came up with what they think are realistic ways to help people deal with obesity. As I was reading through these suggestions from supposedly intelligent people involved in the education and promotion of health in Great Britain, I couldn't help but shake my head at how ridiculous and unrealistic most of these ideas actually were.

Here is what these health officials came up with to fight obesity:

IDEA #1: Call 1-800-HELP-IM-FAT emblazed on all "big" clothes

Look out big & tall stores! You're the target of this proposal to print an obesity-assistance telephone number on all clothes sold with a waist size of 40+ inches for men, 37+ inches for boys, 35+ inches or size 16 for women, and 31+ inches for girls. As humiliating as shopping at a specialty clothes shop or the "big" section of your favorite garment store already is, I do not see what the benefit of rubbing more salt into that wound would create with this idea.

If I'm overweight or obese, then seeing a hotline number to help me with my obesity is NOT going to make me feel better about my weight or get me to do something about it. In fact, just the opposite will happen because it would likely make me even angrier! Those clothes already cost TWICE as much money as regular clothes, so don't tell me about what I don't want to hear. Trust me, if I saw that on my clothes when I weighed 410 pounds, I would have been highly offended and it would not have done a thing to help me lose weight.

When I was ready to finally lose weight, then I made the decision on my own to start the plan of my choice--as you know, I'm livin' la vida low-carb! So, exactly what are these people on the other end of the hotline number going to tell people they need to do to lose weight? Can you say low-fat, low-calorie, portion-controlled diets? UGH! Hoo boy, now we're back to the drawing board again!

IDEA #1 gets a big fat NO WAY from me!

IDEA #2: No more sugary or fatty snacks by the front registers

Under this proposal, the marketing and placement of any snack containing sugar or fat by the front register would be prohibited. Additionally, these products would not be permitted to be placed on a shelf where children can see them so as to avoid the temptation for the young shoppers to pick that product up and take it to mommy to purchase. Again, this is a VERY BAD idea.

While I personally do not like all the candy bars, potato chips, and other junk food that just about every store places by their front register, what right does a health entity have to tell a business owner how to run his business? The answer is he DOESN'T and should mind his own business.

If a parent doesn't want their kid to have that bag of M&M's, then he or she has the final say about whether they buy it for little Johnny or not. At the same time, nobody is forcing an adult to succumb to the temptation to pick up these "impulse" items as they are checking out. That's PRECISELY why they are placed there at the point of sale to provide quick, inexpensive add-ons that increase the profitability of the business. That's just brilliant marketing and should not be forced to cease.

IDEA #2 gets a NO from me, too!

IDEA #3: Higher sales tax on high-sugar, high-saturated fat foods

In what many have called the "fat tax" or the "sin tax," this proposed solution to the obesity problem would require additional taxation be added to foods that contain what these health experts believe is too much sugar or too much saturated fat--in other words, the ones that supposedly MAKE YOU FAT! I have mixed emotions about this one, but again hold firm in my belief that businesses and companies that promote high-sugar or high-saturated fat food should not be penalized for the products they create and sell to the public. If they weren't meeting consumer demand, then they would go out of business.

My concern is who gets to decide the limits on these things? How much sugar is considered "high?" 5g? 20g? And what about saturated fat which is not as unhealthy as these health experts believe it is? What limits are we going to have placed on them to reach the maximum threshold? 2g? 10g? NOBODY KNOWS and that's the problem! Plus, who gets to make that decision which will directly impact the companies that create those products. Questions abound regarding this proposal.

IDEA #3 seems too intrusive to me!

IDEA #4: Health check-ups given to students upon leaving school

Before a 5th grader is sent up to junior high, that child would be required to complete a thorough health examination. The same goes for a high school student about to graduate. Before that student even receives his high school diploma, a health physical would be provided with a full report provided to the student and parents.

I can remember receiving periodic health check-ups at school when I was growing up, but I don't recall anything ever coming of them besides the "you really need to lose some weight" advice that virtually went in one ear and out the other. It sounds like a good idea to show students and parents where they stand healthwise, but what good is that information if nothing is done about it? Is it worth the cost of providing this data if it is simply ignored?

Also, what about regular check-ups with a family doctor using the health insurance of the parents? I understand there are some people who don't have health insurance to cover the cost of a physical for their child and I am not opposed to these children receiving the examination at school. But without any meaningful follow-up about what to do with the information, what's the point of it all?

IDEA #4 is a good start, but we need so much more!

IDEA #5: New roads will be required to include bicycle lanes

All new road construction must include a lane for bicycles to go with the flow of traffic. Okay, that's great and all, but how does this help with obesity exactly? Do you think the reason why fat people don't exercise is the lack of facilities for doing so? Yeah right!

In this day and age of countless numbers of gyms, parks, walking trails, and other recreational facilities, the pathway to fitness is as close as a stone's throw for most people. The problem isn't the need for MORE bicycle lanes, but for people to actually use what's already there for them. The "if you build it they will come" mentality does not apply in this situation.

Before I lost my weight, thinking about doing ANY kind of physical fitness activity was not at all on my mind. I wanted to know when my favorite television show was coming on, what high-carb meal I was going to eat for dinner, how close I could park to the front door at Wal-mart, and when to go out and buy the next size up in my pants and shirts. Exercise was what "other" people did because they have the energy to do it. Of course, I changed my mind about that when I started livin' la vida low-carb and the rest, as they say, is history.

Building bike routes on new roads? IDEA #5 takes a dive!

IDEA #6: Creating a Department of Obesity in the federal government

Oh great, just what we need is MORE government bureaucracy! This final proposal is to create another Cabinet position in the executive branch of the federal government whose sole purpose is to study and evaluate the subject of obesity and come up with ways to tackle it that will bring the rates down. As much as I despise the creation of any new government agency, I think something like this COULD be positive.

But the people who would comprise this group would need to be representatives of all nutritional factions, not just the ones like we have see in the Food & Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture who protect the economic interests of their corporate buddies in the food industry. Big sugar, big corn, and other strong lobby groups in Washington, DC would need to be ignored while REAL solutions are hammered out by people who genuinely care about the overweight and obese.

Representatives from vegetarian, low-fat, low-carb, diabetic, and other dietary factions should be allowed to voice their input into what can be done to educate people who need to lose weight on the various options available to them without the monopoly that currently exists with outdated food recommendations by our government. If this Department of Obesity is truly objective and open to input from all sides, then it could potentially be a GREAT idea.

IDEA #6 could possibly be a part of the fix.

The report says these ideas are just the beginning of the "inadequate reponse to obesity" for people to simply "pull yourself together, eat less and exercise more.” AMEN! I've been saying that ever since I started this blog and will continue to say it until the message is finally heard. People need more concrete instructions about what they need to be doing, not a generalized "eat better" or "eat a healthy, balanced diet." What the heck is that anyway?

Sir George and Dr. Gruer believe overweight people need to be given help, advice and sympathy for them to overcome their poor eating habits and weight problem.

That's partially true. They do need help if they are willing to receive it and they also need advice if it is tailored to their specific situation, not just another "diet" that will fail them. But sympathy isn't needed as much as hope, inspiration and motivation from people who have been where they are at and eventually overcome it. The power of an example can go a long way towards changing how people think and feel about their own situation. I see it all the time.

While I'm sure these medical experts are all fine men in their field of study, I highly doubt any of them truly understands what it feels like to be morbidly obese. Unless you've walked a mile in the shoes of someone who has struggled with the agony of constantly ripping the seat of his pants, dealt with the stares and finger-pointing of people amazed by how big you are, or even felt the pain of being an outcast even among your family and people who claim to be your friend, you have no idea how to help someone cope with the physical and emotional scars that never really leave you. NEVER EVER leave you!

People who are ready to make that decision to lose weight and seriously want to make it happen for themselves once and for all should seek out someone that has already overcome their weight problem. It really doesn't matter who that person is, but find a confidant who will provide you with encouragement and positive vibes as you go through this process. That accountability along with setting an acheivable goal will have you well on your way to success better than any of these proposed ideas for dealing with obesity from the experts could possibly have.

Even scarier than those proposed ideas is their conclusion that obesity-fighting prescription drugs and even risky weight loss survey is needed to reduce obesity. ARGH! NO, NO, NO! That is NOT the answer. Not now, not ever!

Also, they put the onus on those in the medical profession to lead the way in this battle.

“Medical practice must adapt to the current epidemic of obesity and nutrition-related diseases," the report concluded. "The profession must unite the forces of public health and acute services to generate sustainable changes in food and lifestyles: matters at the heart of our cultural identities. Furthermore, training in public health medicine should urge all doctors to contribute towards bringing changes in the food industry and in the environment that will lead to a more physically active, healthier and happier population."

HA! As much as doctors would love to play a role in dealing with obesity, the sad fact is many of them are not adequately educated themselves in the latest nutritional research and studies supporting what a healthy diet is. To most of them, eating healthy means cutting out the fat, trimming down the calories, and exercising regularly. There's no concept of things like cutting out sugar, reducing carbohydrate intake, and eating adequate amounts of healthy fats. Are doctors REALLY the best means for getting the message out to the obese?

One final thought from the panel of experts was regarding the monetary impact of allowing obesity to keep going up and up.

“As the prevalence and costs of obesity escalate, the economic argument for giving high priority to obesity and weight management through a designated coordinating agency will ultimately become overwhelming," the report showed. "The only question is, will action be taken before it is too late?”

Action should DEFINITELY be taken, but what action? Do we go with these meaningless solutions that are outlined in this report and others by well-meaning, but misguided government and health leaders or do we FINALLY get serious about obesity and allow the public to receive a muliplicity of nutritional choices to help them make the best decision about what to do about their own personal situation?

That is the real question of the moment and it will take a lot more courage for health experts and doctors to embrace than anything else that's been presented to combat obesity. It's a realistic solution that we should "reasonably do" if we ever want to "turn the tide" of obesity around "before it is too late."

You can e-mail Dr. Laurence Gruer at

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Blogger Wanda said...

Let me chime in with you Jimmy:|Idea #1 -I just hope someone didn't get paid to come up with that stupid.
And really what size do they stop calling "fat" some people are still a big size even though they look smaller....uggggggggg stupid.
Idea #2
Well as a parent of two kids, I personally hated that junk food at the front and even though I almost agree that it should not be there, I agree with you that they should stop telling stores how they can stock the shelves. As a parent that tried to teach good habits(and letting the kids know they don't get stuff just because) I remember hauling the kids out of the store screaming bc they weren't getting their smarties just because.....another post!!
TAXES...........we pay enough taxes here in Canada since they added the GST. THAT isn't the answer at all.
Idea #4
I don't think telling the kids that they are fat is the answer either. Like they need the preasure in school that they get enough of. It is a good start but forcing people to the doctor is also a burden on the health system and our public health won't cover it so I am sure some parents won't do it at 65bucks a pop.
Idea #5
I am not sure how that would be done considering that many highways don't even have room for sidewalks. The problem with a busy highway is that some I can see deaths happening.I like this idea but it scares me to drive beside bikes on a busy highway at night.
Police will have to monitor them as alot don't obey the law by wearing lights etc......
Idea #6
Why do we need a law for everything?
Like we have enough in our "free" society!hmmmmm

The biggest problems are
#1 Fat people don't need to be told they are fat..they know
#2 eating healthy is EXPENSIVE.
My part of the grocery order is just about or more then the rest of the families. It's crazy.
Hey maybe the gov't should start with the profits of some of the companies raking them in?
#3 Maybe they should make the gyms lower their rates and take off the taxes.there's a start.
#4 Alot of workers are making very MIN wages and can't afford to take control the way they should.
Working 50 hour weeks does not make anyone want to go workout when they are done if they have kids to contend with......An excuse? Maybe but it does happen.

I have no idea what the answers are, all I know is that in the end it's a choice that THEY have to make.
I hate when they make laws for every little thing.
This free society is getting expensive!

12/15/2006 10:35 PM  
Blogger Calianna said...

Not that it would surprise me to see this sort of list suggested in this country too, but things are a bit different in the UK.

They already have sidewalks pretty much everywhere, so proposing bike lanes on new urban roadways makes sense. But if you try to walk somewhere outside of a city in the US, you need to be prepared to take your life in your hands, since most of the time there's nowhere to walk that's not in the street. As for bike lanes - very few and far between. Right off-hand, I can't think of a single place in this county that has a bike lane. Like you said though, having them is not likely to get obese people to use them.

As far as health checkups for kids and insurance goes - Everyone in the UK already has free health care (well, not really free - their taxes to pay for it are astronomical), but there's been talk of starting to charge the overweight for their health care, since they statistically need far more health care than normal weight people do. Of course the brain trust that comes up with these ideas would claim that they're just putting the overweight on a diet by hitting their pocketbook so they can't afford as much food. But that's a lousey idea too - take more money away from the overweight so that all they can afford to eat is the processed white flour and sugary junk that goes straight to fat cells and makes them even fatter.

But yeah, you're right, theyr'e not looking at the real reasons people become overweight, nor will any of these ideas really help, unless by some miracle they actually allow people who understand metabolic problems on the proposed obesity department. Even then, the rest of the department would have to be willing to accept that low-fat/calorie restriction simply doesn't work for everyone.

12/15/2006 10:50 PM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

I am afraid that nearly none of these consensus-driven, non-scientific "solutions" the Gov't keeps coming up with would ever work. It would only gobble up more and more financial resources and harm the economy - not to mention taking even more freedoms away from the very victims of this epidemic!

Sometimes it makes me wonder whether or not they are genuinely interested in getting the population healthy and slim & slender. At the risk of being considered a conspiracy buff I dare to put forward the contention that, after all is said and done, it is much easier to control and squeeze more money out of a tired, obese, lethargic population of (rather defenseless) sheep instead of a slim & slender, highly vocal and educated population.

If the Government is genuinely interested in restoring health and effectively fighting obesity as well as the directly related plethora of illnesses they should think in terms of objective support of the people affected, as well as tax reductions and incentives for these people so that they indeed can afford to buy those (more expensive) healthy foods.

Another thing that absolutely should be enforced in every way possible is the effective education of NOT the obese but instead the medical profession and practitioners in the art of nutritional science.

Instead of cranking out more and more of these politically correct, shortsighted, basically uneducated and misinformed nutritionists and dietitians these educational institutes, educators and students should be certified by completely independent, objective and unbiased scientific bodies. No certification, no permission to spout any dietary or nutritional advice to anyone, period. Those that do not obey would be procesuted to the extend of the law, severely fined, and stripped of all medical titles and possibility of further practicing the medical profession.

That (perhaps draconian, yes) measure alone, if implemented rigourously, would dramatically improve the quality, effectiveness and impartiality of all practitioners in the medical field. I am afraid that only draconian measures are all what can save us, and the future of our children, at this point in time.

Within 10 years, and possibly sooner, it will be too late to turn the tide. The costs will become even more astronomical and spiral completely out of control - most likely resulting in severe economic impact.

The result may very well be much worse even than the current witch-hunt on smokers. A few comparable scenarios, you say? How about this:

Ah, so you are obese? No, no, no protest! My little red BOO (Book Of Ornish) book says so!

- Oh, see here: Ornish' Law says it's all your own fault!
- No job for you! You are a risk to the company, the economy and yourself!
- No health care coverage for you, you are a risk!
- Mandated calorie restriction, no meal in a restaurant for you if your coupon (or biochip) says you already had your 1200 low-fat calories today
- Consuming anything must be done out of public sight
- Snacks and anything containing dietary fat no longer served in pubs
- Stores mandated (and fined for non-compliance) to display low-fat foods prominently
- Colossal warning stickers on anything containing any form of fat
- A tax on every fat-containing food.
- Constant daily barrage of Gov't mandated anti-fat propaganda trough all media
- Taxes and premiums on large size clothes.
- No access to public buildings for obese people
- No Emergency Aid to obese people (it's self-inflicted, after all...)
- Mandatory attendance to the GWW (Government Weight Watchers) program of especially formulated ultra-low-fat diets for obese persons
- Public book burning of all Atkins' publications and, on Sundays, mandated worshipping of the colossal statue of Dr. Dean Ornish - our Savior, our Great Leader In Health.
- A little red book with low-fat tips (by Ornish, of course) would have to be carried on the person at all times. Non-compliance fined.
- Cookbooks are evaluated by the BBDCC (Big Brother Dietary Consensus Commission), presided by Prof. dr. dr. Jody Gorran, RN, MD, RCS, DSO, DSM, etc. etc.

12/16/2006 12:43 AM  
Blogger Calianna said...

Yikes! Don't give them any ideas - the ones they come up with on their own are bad enough!

12/16/2006 8:05 PM  
Blogger Lady Atkins said...

>Building bike routes on new roads? IDEA #5 takes a dive!<

I like the idea.

1) There are no bike lanes anywhere in the area where I live or work, and riding your bike on the main road as the law requires - well, you take your life in your hands.

Bike lanes are only found in certain rich communities, not in the lower-middle class areas I've lived.

2) In high school I rode my bike from the train station the one mile out to school each day. There was no bike lane. There probably should have been, especially with not one but two schools in the vicinity.

Make bike lanes accessible by building more and people will use them. It might not help people lose weight, but overall it's a good idea.

Steps in the right direction here - most busses now have bike racks on the front. I see plenty of folks using them.

BART loosened it's bike policy quite a while back (from allowing bikes on one car only, to all cars except the first).

12/17/2006 11:44 PM  
Blogger teapotsgalore said...

One possible idea that could be underwritten by the govt and that might help a little would be to allow FSA (flexible spending account payroll pretax deductions that many companies now allow employees to sign up for) money to be used for weight-reduction reasons. Right now, I can get my FSA deduction money back with receipts for, say, Maalox or Tylenol purchases. But I can't get reimbursed with my own money for, say, membership at a gym. So how hard would it be for the govt to change the list of valid deductions to include more weight-loss-oriented things like exercise memberships, appointments with nutritionists, or Curves or Weight Watchers, buying Atkins bars, etc. I realize it would take some ironing out of details, but it wouldn't require anything major beyond what the government has already set up, just tweaking. And it could help some people with whatever weight-management lifestyle they've chosen.

12/18/2006 12:00 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Great ideas, teapotsgalore! I'd love to write off my gym membership and low-carb foods as a "healthy living" incentive. Washington, are you listening? Anyone else have ideas about this?

12/18/2006 2:12 PM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

I agree with teapotsgalore, and of course my post was a bit "over the top" to show some of the dangers of Gov't getting involved in all this, but just check out "the weight of the evidence" blog, from Regina... you'll see that these ideas (like "self-inflicted", and "no health care coverage for you") already are considered in the USofA today... frightening!

Instead of punishing the obese, health care practitioners should be educated, and people making wise choices rewarded... but I am afraid that the opposite is going on!

12/20/2006 1:23 AM  

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