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US launches a fight against obesity

By Mary Leonard, Globe Staff, 3/10/2004

WASHINGTON -- Tommy G. Thompson, who dropped from 210 to 195 pounds by putting a pedometer on his belt and the Cabinet department he oversees on a diet, yesterday urged Americans to get off their couches and protect their lives through healthier eating and exercise habits.

"We're just too darned fat," Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, said at a news conference where he previewed the government's new, humorous advertising campaign aimed at motivating an overweight nation to look in the mirror and lose those love handles, the potbelly, and the double chin.

The "Healthy Lifestyles" campaign that Thompson launched appears to come not a moment too soon: Today, the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that poor diet and lack of physical activity was the second-leading cause of death in the United States in 2000, and obesity is gaining fast on tobacco as the most serious health risk facing Americans.

"The problem of obesity is really an epidemic, and we need to apply the same tools to combat it as if it were an infectious disease epidemic," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the study that examined mortality data from 1990 to 2002 to identify and quantify the causes of death.

CDC researchers found that while smoking accounted for 435,000 deaths in 2000, poor diet and physical inactivity led to 400,000 deaths that year and is likely to overtake tobacco soon because fewer Americans are smoking but more are gaining weight. Over the last decade, deaths due to obesity and sedentary lifestyles rose by 33 percent, the CDC reported.

According to HHS data, 129.6 million American adults, or 64 percent, are obese or overweight, and another 9 million children are too fat. Health officials say the condition increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some forms of cancer, leading to medical costs and lost productivity that the US Surgeon General has estimated at $117 billion in 2000.

Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes for Health, yesterday called obesity a "public health emergency" and said that the agency was directing new research into the links between obesity, disease, the environmental factors that cause sedentary lifestyles, and the body's metabolism. "We consider this a major threat and will fight it," he said.

The National Institutes for Health's budget for obesity research is $400.1 million this fiscal year, up from $378.6 million last year, and the Bush administration has requested $440.3 million for next year.

Thompson said Congress should consider giving tax credits to Americans who lose weight, and he proposed that health insurance companies reduce premiums for people who keep the pounds off. Short of that, he urged Americans to fight the battle of the bulge by changing diets that depend on fast food and prepared foods, and neglect fruits and vegetables. He also criticized lifestyles of too little exercise and too much television.

The government's education campaign suggests that even minor changes in behavior lead to slimmer bodies and healthier lives. Among the tips offered: Skate to work instead of driving. Fetch the newspaper yourself. Eat off smaller plates. Take the stairs instead of the escalator. Get a dog and walk it. Eat half your dessert and more celery sticks.

Thompson said his goal was not to make Americans feel guilty, but he did point out there were "chunky" people in the audience who could stand to do 10 sit-ups and five push-ups in front of the television when they got home.

"I've lost 15 pounds and I feel much more energetic," said Thompson, who said he still has 10 more pounds to go. If he was to be the administration's poster person for a trim figure, "I had to start looking the part," he said.

Thompson is not featured in the television ads, which were produced for free by McCann Erickson, the New York agency that created the MasterCard "priceless" commercials. The ads begin airing today at no cost to the government on CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and PBS. In one, a puzzled man turns in a pair of fleshy love handles to a lost-and-found clerk in a department store. In a second, a couple trip over a double chin left on the floor of a supermarket. In the third, two boys speaking Spanish find a potbelly on the beach and poke it with a stick. The body parts were lost, apparently, when their owners started exercising.

The print ads show close-ups of unshapely hips, flabby stomachs, double chins, and very round derrieres. Superimposed are a series of dotted lines, showing that gradually increasing exercise could trim the fatties down to sleeker figures.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health-advocacy group, said she was happy the Bush administration was drawing attention to obesity but called the ads "a half-measure" to address it. "What they should be doing is trying to get junk food out of the schools, requiring calorie-labeling on chain-restaurant menus, prohibiting junk-food marketing aimed at children, and funding every state program to promote physical activity."she said.

Thompson said a big-budget initiative was out of the question. He also said there was a "better way" than to file lawsuits, as some obese consumers have done, against fast-food chains. Today, the House is expected to vote on the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act -- known to some as the "cheeseburger bill" -- that would prevent chains from being held liable in such suits.

Thompson promised that more "provocative" ads would added to the Healthy Lifestyles campaign, but said that President Bush, the administration's most ardent exerciser, would not be in them.
 

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Thompson said Congress should consider giving tax credits to Americans who lose weight, and he proposed that health insurance companies reduce premiums for people who keep the pounds off.

Of for ****'s sake. You know, socialized medicine would solve all this crap...
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by mikie View Post

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health-advocacy group, said she was happy the Bush administration was drawing attention to obesity but called the ads "a half-measure" to address it. "What they should be doing is trying to get junk food out of the schools, requiring calorie-labeling on chain-restaurant menus, prohibiting junk-food marketing aimed at children, and funding every state program to promote physical activity."she said.

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All these ads sound like they do is continue to demonize fat and fat people, when what the administration needs to focus on is all the stuff that Wootan brings up. Once again, the issue of health gets turned into new ways to make people feel bad about their bodies. Appealing to people's vanity probably leads more to eating disorders and an increase in cosmetic surgery, rather than long-lasting, healthy lifestyle changes.
 

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I don't see why the government should be involved with this. America is too fat. Let the people handle it themselves.

The government should be taking more efforts to save the environment before it starts yanking away cheeseburgers.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by eggplant View Post

All these ads sound like they do is continue to demonize fat and fat people, when what the administration needs to focus on is all the stuff that Wootan brings up. Once again, the issue of health gets turned into new ways to make people feel bad about their bodies. Appealing to people's vanity probably leads more to eating disorders and an increase in cosmetic surgery, rather than long-lasting, healthy lifestyle changes.
Agreed.

Thompson said Congress should consider giving tax credits to Americans who lose weight, and he proposed that health insurance companies reduce premiums for people who keep the pounds off.

I think weight is not a good measure who's to say what percentage fat vs. muscle, what the cause is, how it is effecting you. It might drive people to unsafe measures like starvation diets or surgery. Perhaps a reduction for physical activity classes, like they give you discounts for defensive driving classes. Exercise benefits everyone.
 

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Weight is definitely a bad measure of health. I'm a woman weighing 190 lbs at 5'9 which puts me in the "obesity" range, and yet my bodyfat % is only 29, which is within "normal" range. I also run 5 miles a day and only take in a max of 1600 calories. But I was very overweight for a long time (when I started to lose I was at 260), and I don't think ads like this would've done it for me. It has to be so much more of a lifestyle change than that. It's nice that they are trying to combat the problem, and when I think about it, people from Tommy Thompson's generation (like my own father) probably would respond to ads like this. So I understand where they are coming from...but I just don't think it's going to fix it. As to tax credits, would these be retroactive? How much would a 70 lb loss get me?
 

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LOL...I think our government is just so used to using scare tactics on people that this is all it can think of to do.

"Get off of your couch and put down the chips or you're going to DIE!!!!!!!!!!"

This is helpful.

Or here, let me pay you to loose some weight, will that work? BTW, have you tried the atkins plan?

Never mind that when many people are scared and stressed, they eat. And when they get extra money, they generally spend it on food....ah well.

Oh, and also, never mind that the government sponsored school lunch is notoriously unhealthy and gross.

Ah well....

B
 

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I browsed through nearly every newspaper covering the announcement, and most of them were repurposed from the AP report. Not one of them mentioned the benefits of a plant-based diet in treating the problem, of course.
 

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Yep... health is not all about size & weight.

They should offer tax deductions for home exercise equipment purchases or gym memberships. Healthy living should be promoted, not weight loss!

I fear that all the "obesity" news will lead people to try more fad diets, more diet pills, and more plastic surgery... all in the hope of a quick fix.
 

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Yeah. When I think about how this might have affected me when I was seriously overweight, I think it might've just made me more self conscious. Most overweight people are really very aware that they ARE overweight (at least, I and my friends were!), and they know they probably ought to lose some in order to be healthy. What seems to be a secret is how this is actually done - and plans like Atkins, South Beach, etc only serve the belief that there is something "magic" about weight loss. The government might make long strides toward combatting the problem by outlawing false advertising when it comes to diet plans and exercise equipment, and somehow making it very well known that the only real way to lose is via the MELF plan (more exercise, less food!). I don't know, maybe get people on a commercial (ala infomercial style) who've lost a ton of weight the healthy, correct way (I'll step up! "I lost 70 lbs on the MELF plan! I went from a size 26 to a size 14!" Though the amount of time it took me to do this might turn some people off...).
 

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Cassiel said:
I'm a woman weighing 190 lbs at 5'9 which puts me in the "obesity" range, and yet my bodyfat % is only 29, which is within "normal" range. I also run 5 miles a day and only take in a max of 1600 calories.

I don't mean to offend you in any way, but how do you manage to be obese and go running? I am quite ovweight, though not obese, and can't even run for half an hour due to my weight. And, I used to go running everyday before I started gaining weight, so I know it's not b/c I was out of shape.

I want to know what your secret is. I really do miss my running!
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cassiel View Post

Though the amount of time it took me to do this might turn some people off...).
Yup...everyone wants instant gratification.

It's not like there's a big secret to being healthy, it's mostly common sense stuff that everyone knows. But they get suckered into the idea that there's some trick that will let them get what they want without having to work for it.
 

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PeasForAll said:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cassiel View Post

I am quite ovweight, though not obese, and can't even run for half an hour due to my weight. And, I used to go running everyday before I started gaining weight, so I know it's not b/c I was out of shape.

I want to know what your secret is. I really do miss my running!
I used to be in the obese range as well and go running. I could see it being difficult, if not dangerous, for someone who is morbidly obese to run, but there's no reason a moderately overweight person shouldn't be able to run. Have you started by running for shorter periods and gradually building up to 30 minutes, or did you just start trying to run 30 minutes? If so, just start with a half a mile or so and walk the rest of the time until you feel like you can do more. If a thin person just decided to run for 30 minutes one day without gradually getting in shape first, they probably wouldn't be able to do it either...
 

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Sorry, I just realized you said you weren't out of shape. Maybe you're just not used to the new weight? If you don't mind me asking, why do you think you gained weight if you've been exercising?
 

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Eggplant,

I developed binge eating disorder this past year....so despite the fact I've been running and lifting weights on a regular basis I still gained tons of weight....
 
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