If there's one thing worse than the awesome American obesity epidemic, it's saying that nothing can be done about it. Sadly, this has become a cottage industry in our country. It ranges from books with titles like Your Fat Is not Your Fault, to Big Is Beautiful! magazine covers, to fat activist groups, to newspaper articles like the recent Post one, "Battle Your Biology? Fat Chance" (New York Post, July 11).
True, telling people what they need to hear as opposed to what they want to hear is not the route to fame, fortune and the best-seller list. But here goes:
Big is not beautiful; it cripples and kills. Studies have repeatedly found that overweight people (not huge; just overweight) suffer higher rates of heart disease, stroke, many types of cancer, arthritis and an incredible array of other diseases.
About 300,000 Americans die prematurely each year from being overweight. Only cigarette smoking causes more lifestyle-related deaths.
Obesity in the U.S. is epidemic in every sense of the word.
Last October, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 55% of U.S. women and 63% of men are overweight or obese. The federal government's statistics are similar.
The study also found the obesity rate among adults jumped almost 70% just from 1991 to 1998.
This incredible growth of the national girth belies everyone's favorite excuse, genes. Gene pools don't change within a single generation.
Blaming genes for one's own obesity is also a red herring. Yes, a few such genes affecting metabolism have been found, but they count for almost nothing. One, for example, has been shown to reduce a person's calorie-burning by the equivalent of a butterscotch disk a day.
Why is the nation getting fatter? No surprise here. We're eating more and exerting less, whether in formal exercise or simple day-to-day activities.
Why are individuals getting fatter? See above.
Every one of the multitude of studies in which people's caloric intake and output are measured, as opposed to the studies that simply ask subjects what they eat and how much exercise they get, verifies just what mama told you. Eat too much, don't get enough exercise, and you balloon.
This is bad news if you're looking to scapegoat your metabolism, but good news if you like the idea of controlling your weight fate.
More good news is that another obesity myth is that our bodies, like ratchet-wrenches, readily put pack on the pounds but thereafter refuse jealously to let go of them. In reality, what goes up can come down.
The science of weight loss is still young, but already provides useful advice.
Most important, probably, is to lose the weight slowly. People who have packed on 30 pounds over 15 years and then try to lose it in 30 days are in all likelihood doomed to failure.
For most people, a combination of a moderate reduction in eating and a moderate increase in exercise is most effective.
Drastic swings in either direction provide quick results; however, drastic actions are not sustainable and eventually every pound creeps back on.
It appears that most successful slimmers make and stick to their own plans, without benefit of a commercial program or the latest best-selling diet book.
But the first step in dealing with any problem is recognizing that it IS a problem and can be helped.
Meanwhile, the worst food you can consume is the baloney produced by those who tell you to just eat, drink, and be merry, for nothing can be done.
Read Michael Fumento's additional work on obesity and on cancer.
Read an excerpt from Michael Fumento's book, The Fat of the Land and a review, "'Fat' Sheds Light on Weight Myths" (The Detroit News, December 31, 1997).
Michael Fumento is author of numerous books, including The Fat of the Land: Our Health Crisis and How Overweight Americans Can Help Themselves (Penguin, 1998).