Jewish World Review March 16, 2004 / 23 Adar, 5764

Jack Z. Smith

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Society doesn't need an ulcer over obesity | It's a health issue.

A financial issue.

A legal issue.

A political issue.

A character issue.

A psychological issue.

Obesity is a hot topic on lots of fronts. America's latest epidemic is becoming a media in"fat"uation.

But here's the real skinny: We're making obesity a much more complicated issue than it need be.

Yes, obesity is a highly significant and mushrooming problem. But fighting fat shouldn't be excessively complicated for the vast majority of Americans waging the Battle of the Bulge.

For most of us, the solution is just as simple as Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson made it sound Tuesday in a news conference that drew heavy media coverage.

Get more exercise. You don't have to be extreme about it.

Eat more healthfully. And perhaps eat a tad less. Again, you don't have to be extreme about it.

Most Americans need not calculate their body mass index daily, nor carb-starve their bodies with the Atkins diet, nor buy a roomful of expensive exercise equipment, nor digest complex, 300-page nutrition books in order to maintain a healthy weight.

Thompson, who has trimmed down simply by walking more, put America's corpulence crisis in the simplest of terms when he lamented: "We're getting too darn fat."

His comments came on the same day that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study showing that if current trends continue, soon more Americans will be dying of obesity than from smoking.

Being fat would become America's No. 1 cause of preventable death.

Poor diets and lack of exercise caused 400,000 deaths in 2000, the federal agency estimates - a 33 percent jump over 1990.

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Obesity has become a front-page legal and political issue. On Wednesday, the U.S. House approved legislation to prevent people from suing restaurants on the grounds that their food makes customers fat.

Members of Congress are seeking more federal funding for fitness and nutrition programs. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Susan Combs has announced a new policy raising nutritional standards in public schools.

Obesity is a huge health and financial issue. It contributes to major killers such as heart attack and diabetes. About 130 million adults are overweight or obese, costing an estimated $117 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity in 2000, says a 2001 report by the U.S. surgeon general.

Obesity is, fairly or not, a character issue. Some people believe that the decline of Western civilization is evidenced by our having become a lazy, couch-potato, fast-food nation lacking the grit of earlier generations who chopped firewood and walked three miles to school (through the snow, of course).

Obesity is even a psychological issue, as in the case of severely overweight people who may suffer from social isolation, low self-esteem and depression.

It's good that we're talking about the obesity problem. It's great that we're taking active measures to combat it, as Combs is doing with her common-sense nutrition policy designed to reduce the volume of deep-fried foods and sugary snacks ingested by our children.

But, once again, let's not make this too complicated.

Although some people indeed might require extraordinary measures to shed profuse poundage, the overwhelming majority of Americans can do so without going on foolish, faddish, gimmicky diets or taking radical measures such as costly and potentially dangerous surgery to shrink their stomachs.

You can, for example, walk three miles four days a week at a brisk pace around your neighborhood. Or join a local YMCA, where you can swim laps and lift weights.

You can reduce your caloric intake without starving yourself. Eat more delicious fruits and vegetables and whole-grain cereals. Snub french fries. Cut yourself a smaller slice of chocolate cake.

And to ensure that you are less tempted to eat unhealthfully, simply buy less unhealthful food at the supermarket.

If you're a parent, consider whether you're being a good role model for your kids. Are you always reaching for the Blue Bell instead of the barbells?

Aim for a slow, gradual reduction in your weight. If you lose only a half-pound per week, that's a 26-pound weight loss in a year.

When it comes to the obesity issue, I'm predominantly a libertarian.

Most overweight Americans can trim down without the need of any legislation.

The formula for success is incredibly simple: fewer pig-outs, more workouts.

Jack Z. Smith is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Fort Worth Star-Telegram Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.