Category Archives: Obesity

Happy Meals Not So Happy

It appears that McDonald’s “Happy Meal” toys and other promotions that come with high-calorie children’s meals will soon be banned in parts of California, unless the restaurants in question meet certain nutritional guidelines.

In favor of such a ban are public health administrators, parents, and physicians.
Opposed to such a ban are fast-food franchisees, other parents, and fans of fast-food toys, who say the promotions are often used to provide Christmas presents for poor children.

Physicians point out that the toys are a powerful lure for children, encouraging them to eat unhealthy food, which then helps cause obesity.  Many parents buy the unhealthy food for their children specifically because toys come with the meal!

Here’s my take on this problem:  again, parents are not parenting.

Unprofessional, Insulting and Totally Correct

A 44 year-old woman filed a complaint about her doctor after a tense consultation with him in 2009 in New Zealand.  The doctor said “effing” three times to the woman after she told him she didn’t like the word “diet,” and preferred he use the term “lifestyle.”  He insisted that she needed to go on an “effing” diet.  According to the woman, the doctor told her that if she couldn’t handle the word “diet,” then he challenged her motivation and stated that she would never survive gastric bypass surgery because she was still “bullxxxxing” herself and therefore her thinking was still “effed.”

The physician, fed up with her, scratched her name from the gastric bypass waiting list.

New Zealand’s Health and Disability Commissioner said the doctor, who completely admitted using bad language, was reprimanded for being unprofessional and insulting.

The doctor WAS unprofessional and insulting AND completely correct!  When people move less and eat more and want magical means to become physically normal and healthy, it does frustrate and exhaust the patience of people who are there to help.  This doctor could just have been having a bad day, but I think it is more likely that he was just tired of the wordplay and mind games of those who simply don’t display self-discipline or take serious responsibility for their condition (but who expect respect as though their condition was out of their control – when it is definitely NOT).

The doctor should have been reprimanded, but so should this patient!

Five Health Factors Could Prevent Millions of Deaths

It was a surprise to me to learn from the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) that tackling just five health factors could prevent millions of premature deaths and increase life expectancy by almost 4 years!

Some of these factors (e.g., overeating) are totally within our personal, daily control.  While not having enough nutritious food is a big health risk for those in poorer countries, the BIGGER health risk in richer nations is being overweight or obese.  Obesity and overweight cause more deaths worldwide than being underweight!

The Geneva-based UN health agency listed the world’s top mortality risks as:

1. High blood pressure (which accounts for 13% of global deaths)
2. Smoking (9% of global deaths)
3. High blood glucose (6% of global deaths)
4. Physical inactivity (6%)
5. Being overweight or obese (5%)

The WHO added that if the risks in its report had not existed, life expectancy would, on average, have been almost a decade longer in 2004 for the entire global population.

That means that the quality and quantity of our lives are in our hands – in our control –  and are, largely, a matter of choice.  Keep that in mind when you eat foods high in salt or sugar, or eat too much and don’t get rest, or don’t get daily exercise, or smoke that cigarette…

When you do things that hurt you and you don’t take time to smell the roses, the roses will be planted over your premature remains.

Calorie Counts on Restaurant Menus Don’t Change Behavior

When I was on a working trip to New York City, some of my staff and I popped into a very lovely open-air sort of restaurant for lunch.  The menu was huge in size (I always wonder how they have all that food on hand), and I noticed something I had never, ever seen before:  calorie counts between the description of the food and the price!

I read each and every calorie count and was shocked at how unbelievably caloric many of the foods were that I had thought were healthy.  An appetizer of fried calamari had more calories than one should have in a whole day!  Even the veggie meals were stuffed with extra calories from oil, cheese and sauces.  Oh my!

Talk about being “scared straight,” like those kids in front of convicts who warn them to clean up their acts.  I immediately selected the healthiest thing I could find (boring, but healthy), ending up with a turkey sandwich on rye with lettuce and tomato – no mayo and no dressing, but with some salt, because I normally have low blood pressure.  I give callers high blood pressure, but mine is usually low. 

New York City was the first place in the country, I believe, to require calorie posting.  What have we learned from this experiment?

Researchers at New York University and Yale discovered that, although 9 out of 10 people who saw the calorie counts claimed they “made healthier choices as a result,” when the researchers checked the receipts afterward, they found that people, had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect in July, 2008.

The lead research scientist said, “I think it does show us that labels are not enough.”  What?  What else do you want to do?  Send in the calorie police?  On, someone made a suggestion that restaurants could have scales for people to weigh themselves before sitting down to dinner (ohhhh, what  rude reminder!) or they should post pictures of what you’re going to look like if you have that lasagna in addition to  bread, butter or olive oil, a big salad with a cup of dressing and then cheesecake to wrap it up!

So, if calorie postings have no impact, except for the people who already are careful and appropriate in their healthy food choices, then what is the point of continuing them?  I still think it’s a good idea to continue.  Perhaps with patience, we will see people care about their bodies and their health as much as their family, friends and relatives do, and as much as the taxpayers who are not overweight and are forced to be burdened by the rising health costs brought on by illnesses associated with obesity.

Russell Crowe is Not A Role Model for Healthy Living

An Australian newspaper columnist mocked actor Russell Crowe for smoking and chowing down on three tacos and a soft drink during a recent bike ride.  Specifically, her piece was entitled:  “Smokes and Fatty Foods – The Fitness Regime for Rusty.”

No, he didn’t throw a bike at her (like he threw a phone at a hotel employee several years ago).  Instead, he challenged her to a bike ride.  She went on the 12 mile ride through the city, struggling to keep up, and then she fell off her bike.  She persevered and finished the ride, and had compliments for “Rusty.”  Instead of gloating (she revealed), the actor was gracious and concerned about her:  “…the perfect gentleman as he rolled up my trousers to check on my knee.”

Well, the actor has trimmed down of late, and bike riding is probably a part of his new health regimen, but, c’mon, biking with your trainer and scarfing down tacos, sugary sodas and dragging on a cigarette earned him that headline.  That he could outride a non-rider doesn’t change the truth:  what he did was very unhealthy.  And considering that two thirds of Americans (Crowe is Australian) are fat or obese because they move less and eat more, it would have been better if he had owned up to the error of his gastronomical ways.

TUMS Ad Promotes Big Tummies

While I was having a healthy breakfast the other morning, I became incensed at a particular TV commercial for TUMS.  TUMS itself is a fine product for relieving excess stomach acid, but that’s NOT how the commercial was positioning the product.

A man, standing in the evening rain, is looking through the glass into a restaurant, gazing hungrily and sadly while the cook is frying up a bunch of meat and pouring cheese all over it.  The music accentuates the man’s painful disappointment.  The scene is a “take-off” on the situation where a starving child has his nose against the glass watching rich people dine, while his stomach has shrunken to the size of a raisin.

It was not very funny.

The next shot is of a TUMS bottle.  The shot after that is of the man who had been looking into the restaurant eating this ferociously unhealthy sandwich of meat fried in a ton of oil with artery-clogging cheese melted all over it.

Not very funny, either.

So, here is a product which is NOT being promoted as a rescue effort for someone struck with a little excess acid.  This product is now being promoted as an ENABLER of horrible eating habits (Hey!  Eat that rich, fattening food – because now we have a way to get you through it with minimal discomfort!)

Since two thirds of Americans (including children) are fat or obese, this is so irresponsible that I am ALMOST speechless.  Showing people they can indulge in unbelievably unhealthy eating with the help of TUMS sounds like something you would see in a comedy movie, but not in an actual promotion of a supposedly healthy product.

I liked it better when they were touting the amount of calcium in it for strong bones.

It’s not the fault of the TUMS tablets.  It’s the fault of the greedy folks behind it, who are willing to let people hurt themselves, if it sells a tablet.

“Dance Your Ass Off” is Right On!

Last Monday, I stayed up late to watch “Dance Your Ass Off,” a new reality series on Oxygen.  I’ve said many times (and I stand by it), I loathe even the concept of what has been called “reality TV.”  I find it generally exploitive, humiliating, demeaning, mean, stupid and guilty of lowering the American consciousness to sub-basement levels.  People are embarrassed, made fun of, attacked, and dismissed with a cavalier attitude of so-called judges or peered out.  These shows make it to air, because they’re cheap to produce and because there seems to be no end to the appetite of some of the American public to lick their lips when others are behaving badly or grossly, or when people are being “thrown to the lions.”

When I heard there was a new TV show in which overweight people would compete in dancing, I thought this would be seriously sickening.  What a scenario for making fun of people!  “Dance Your Ass Off ” has some of the elements of the typically disgusting reality format:  judges who have “not too judicious” comments, and someone who gets thrown out after some weeks.  But there is much more to this show in particular (in spite of the spicy title). 

The scores are not only for their dancing (they’re trained and choreographed by a professional dancer), but for how much weight they lose.  They all have access to a nutritionist who guides them in cooking and food choices and portion sizes.  So at the end of the Olympics-like scoring from 1 to 10 for the quality of their dancing that week, the percentage of weight lost that week is added to their individual score.  Therefore, a person could have been graded poorly for their dance program, but if they lost 5% of their body weight, they potentially could win the whole night!

I like that this is just not a typical exploitation of people small or too big.  It’s a real challenge for these people to get fit, lose weight, practice dancing, and perform.  The most significant part of the entire program that I appreciated was that there was no competition between these folks.  They all support each other in losing weight and doing their best.  There are no mean manipulations in order to throw somebody off the island or forced fights just for entertainment’s sake.  These people work hard, and become quite committed to being fit.

It’s funny.  I thought this would be an utterly disgusting display, and it turns out it’s one which is quite benevolent and fun to watch.  Seeing these folks working very hard in spite of their extra weight and lack of fitness is admirable and not something to giggle about.  Most of the time, the contestants behave quite respectfully when the judges are not that complimentary (and I think the judges are often out of order making demands of non-dancers who are overweight).  Nonetheless, overall, this show is quite supportive of the right behaviors.

An Obese Woman Responds

My recent comments about obesity as both a health issue and an overall economic issue generated quite a number of responses.  Some people wrote, detailing medical histories that made it impossible for them to get down to a normal weight.  While there are always exceptions, I wanted to share with you a seemingly “impossible” situation faced by a woman who weighed over 400 pounds.  She knew that losing weight was going to be very difficult, but she made the changes in her life that kept her on the path to good health, and she’s a real inspiration to us all (I’ve not included her name, for reasons of privacy):

Dear Dr. Laura:

I am an obese person.  Two years ago, my sister asked me to have surgery.  I did not want to have it, because I was afraid of the risk.  I did not know how heavy I was, because my doctor’s scale limit is 400 pounds.  I promised my sister I would change my behavior, but not go on a diet.

I went to the doctor and got some information and a health exam.  Then I began to make plans on changing my behavior.  [In the past], I was not eating breakfast or lunch.  I was so hungry when I got home, I would eat easy fast food instead of taking the time to prepare food.  I would also binge late at night.  The doctor suggested I no longer skip meals.

First change:  I eat breakfast and lunch.

Second change:  Drink before eating.  I drink water, and, for flavor, sometimes Crystal Light.  I learned that when the body needs something, it is not specific.  It just says “I need,” and “stomach feels empty.”

Third change:  Choose better foods.  If heart tells brain “I need nutrients,” and stomach tells brain “I am full of garbage,” the brain sends the message “empty stomach.”

Fourth change: Thinking of food in a different way.  It’s neither my entertainment nor my entitlement.  Better food will get me up the stairs at work.  At 200+ pounds overweight, life becomes stationary.  Nutrition can replace that.

Fifth change:  Reduce the amount of food.  The doctor suggested that I keep a log of my food and drink.  I wrote down everything for two weeks.  I was eating more than I thought.  Over time, I reduced my starch in half and then in half again.  Today…I do not plan food or write it down.  For me, I would be thinking of food too much.  I eat set breakfast and lunch meals.  Dinner is now something that can be made in 30 minutes.

Sixth change:  Move more.  Your nagging worked.  The doctor suggested low impact exercise over a long period of time.  No jack rabbit starts and stops.  I can’t sustain walking out of water, so I walk 1 hour in water and backstroke 1 hour, six times a week.  I get stares.  I stare back.  I am not ashamed.  I have changed.

There is no diet for me to break from.  The only thing left is to feel the frustration.  It renews my dedication to my life change.  The first two years, I lost 70 pounds.  It’s the first time in 15 years I have not gained weight.  I have been exercising for a month.

Thank you, Dr. Laura, for all your nagging.  I wish I would have started earlier.  The last two years made it possible.  It gave me a foundation of nutrition that sustains me while I move.  I now move more and eat less.  I can hardly wait until next year.

Thanks again for the kick in the butt.