How to Win the War Against Obesity

Lessons from the Obesity Summit

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Williamsburg, Va. -- Experts agree: obesity has become a near-epidemic problem in our nation. So at a groundbreaking summit on obesity earlier this month, leaders from academia, health care, industry, the media, and government gathered to discuss solutions to the problem.

The idea behind the Time/ABC News Summit on Obesity was to look at the issues from all sides. The hope was to inspire attendees to go back to their communities and make a difference.

So what are the latest strategies in the war on obesity? Here are a few highlights:

It Takes a Village -- NOW!

"Time is of the essence" was a message echoed in every presentation, as was the call for prevention -- starting with our children. Experts agreed that our kids could be the first generation to die younger than their parents because of the adult-like diseases that go along with childhood obesity.

There was also agreement that the only way to win the war against obesity is by working together. The food industry, government, health-care professionals, teachers, communities, and parents all need to join hands if we are going to make a difference.

We'll all pay dearly if we don't, with our money as well as our health. The economic drain caused by obesity-related health problems is devastating. We can hardly afford the costs today, let alone the projected costs 10 years from now.

What's On the Menu?

Is it carbohydrates, protein, or fats that make us fat? The bottom line is that if you eat too much of any or all of these nutrients, you'll gain weight. There's nothing magical about low-carb diets, the glycemic index, or excessive amounts of protein. Calories are what count, and fad diets work (at least in the short term) because they lower the total amount of calories you eat, plain and simple.

The most compelling presentations at the summit promoted a diet rich in complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, lean protein, and plenty of fruits and vegetables and discouraged refined carbohydrates, sugars, trans fats, and saturated fats -- just as we do at the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic.

No matter what else you eat, There's no such thing as a healthy diet without a large dose of produce -- where you'll find more than 1,000 health-promoting, disease-protecting substances (antioxidants, phytochemicals, isoflavones, etc.), says Dean Ornish, MD.

Personal Responsibility

Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was one of the conference "heroes," thanks to his 105-pound weight loss over the last year. He did it the right way, by making a commitment to eating healthily and getting regular exercise. One year ago, he did no exercise; now he's hooked on a daily fitness routine.

"There is no food that tastes as good as feeling healthy," Huckabee told the audience. His "aha!" moment came after he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and realized how sick he was of feeling sick and tired.

Participants at the summit agreed that each of us needs to take responsibility for our own health and that parents need to teach their children through good example. Still, schools should offer healthy foods and more physical education. Restaurants and food companies should be responsible about advertising and encourage consumers to choose healthier foods that are competitively priced.

The Blame Game

At a meeting with so many nutritional heavy-hitters in attendance, you might expect a fair amount of finger-pointing and accusations. But most agreed that "the blame game" is a waste of time and energy.

Obesity is a complex problem and not the fault of any one group, food, company, or advertisement. Instead of blaming one another, we need to help individuals take responsibility for what they eat and motivate them to get some exercise.

James O. Hill, PhD, co-founder of Americaonthemove.org, wants us all to strap on pedometers and walk, walk, walk, adding extra steps to our daily lives any way we can. Combine 10,000 steps per day with a healthy diet, and you will be well on your way toward improving your health and losing weight.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The take-away message from all this is that there is no single solution to the problem. Each of us needs to find the healthy eating plan that works best for our lifestyles and to develop healthier habits -- including regular physical activity.

No matter which diet we follow, it should contain plenty of complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and lean protein. And it should limit the amount of refined carbohydrates, trans fats, and saturated fats.

Success will depend on how ready each of us is to commit to a lifetime of healthier habits. We have learned that weight control is not just about education; most of us know that the road to better health is through a nutritious diet and regular exercise. Now, we just need to do it -- and to get our friends, family, and neighbors to join us in the fight against obesity.

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