"What Can We Do About Obesity?" by Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, President & CEO


What Can We Do About Obesity?

October 1, 2011 -  The average non-obese healthy American gains about one pound per year.  This is among the findings of a recent study conducted by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) involving
120, 877 people over a twenty year period. 

According to a report sponsored by healthcare’s Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, entitled “F as in Fat:  How Obesity Threatens America’s Future, 2011,” Florida is the 29th most obese state, with 26.1% of our population in that weight category.  This same report shows some other very disturbing findings, indicating that the time-honored advice, “eat less and exercise more” has not been successfully followed:   

  • Adult obesity rates increased in 16 states and failed to decline in any.
  • Florida’s rate of obesity has increase more than 80% in the last 15 years.
  • Fifteen years ago, our state had a combined obesity and overweight rate of 49.1%; ten years ago we were 54.7% and currently we have climbed to 62.6%.
  • Twelve states have obesity rates over 30% today whereas only one state was above 30% four years ago.
  • Obesity rates exceed 25% in two-thirds of states.
  • Over the past 15 years, seven states have doubled their rates of obesity.
  • Ten years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 24%, now 43 states have higher obesity rates than the state that was the highest in 2000.
  • Colorado, the state with the lowest current rate of obesity, would have had the highest rate in 1995.

The result of this objective weight gain for Floridians is the suffering caused by chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.  The prediction is that by 2020 obesity will be the most common cause of cancer.  Colon cancer, breast cancer, and a few other types of cancer have been associated with diet particularly excess fat intake.    In 1995, Florida had a diabetes rate of 5.7%; today it is 9.9%.  Fifteen years ago our hypertension rate was 23.7% and now we are at 29%.

Lifestyle behaviors determine our weight.  The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, sweets, and processed foods cause the most weight gain.  Potato chips are singularly the largest contributor to weight gain, with potatoes, unprocessed red meats and processed red meats following in that order.

On the other hand, consuming vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts and yogurt helps control weight and are clearly associated with weight loss. While vegetables are more effective than yogurt in weight loss, both are infinitely better than weight gainers such as potato chips.  The old advertising slogan, “Bet you can’t eat one,” is an understatement; chips are the most noxious snack we consume. 

Physical activity helps but is rather ineffective unless you also watch your diet—particularly as you get older.  Alcohol users, smokers who quit, people who sleep less than six hours or more than eight, and those who spend many hours watching TV,  all gain weight.  This, incidentally, is another good reason never to start smoking.  TV watchers experienced an average weight increase of a third of a pound for each hour of television watched per day.  There can be no doubt that it is more difficult to lose weight than it is to avoid gaining it in the first place.

Fortunately, we are now fighting back against the battle of the bulge.  Twenty states have school meal standards that are more stringent that those suggested by the Department of Agriculture.  Twenty-nine states including Florida do not allow unhealthy foods to be sold on school campuses.  Physical education is making a come back as we understand the risks of a sedentary lifestyle.  Florida, along with twenty-one other states, measures body mass index in children and adolescents.  Our state is working on creating roads which encourage walking and biking, as well as public transportation.

At the Federal level, the Patient Protection and Affordability Act funds a prevention effort aimed at improved nutrition and increased physical activity.  The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act also helps in these efforts as we aspire to feed everyone appropriately.

We have the fattest nation in the history of civilization.  Fortunately, we recognize the problem and have started on controls.  By finally addressing our health needs we can make a difference.  So instead of saying to a friend, “I’ll meet you for lunch,” say “Let’s take a walk or hit the gym or pool.”  We live in a community that has the resources; let’s use them to maximum advantage.


Past Health Advice Articles

Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.