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Discussion: Treating the Obesity Epidemic

posted on April 9, 2007 at 10:33 PM

If a major epidemic was affecting over half of Iowa's adults, panic would rule the day. Health experts say the epidemic is here, but where’s the alarm? With 60 percent of Iowans overweight and a third of those obese, we’re shortening our lifespan, decreasing our quality of life, and putting ourselves at risk for chronic diseases. Are we headed for a disaster? And what about our kids: Are we sentencing them to a lifetime of weight-related problems?

Well, tonight to help us with these questions and others, I'm joined in the studio by Carol Voss, a nutritionist with the Iowa Department of Public Health, and by Vernon Delpesce, who is the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Des Moines.

Mundt: We all know there are more important motives for losing unwanted pounds than winning huge sums of money. Unfortunately, most of the remedies involve some form of doing without. Vernon Delpesce, how can we encourage ourselves and others to take some of these steps that matt was talking about?

Delpesce: Well, really it would be nice to be able to hand out that kind of money, but I think people need to realize that the $250,000 that he won, if they'll stay healthy, they're going to save that amount of money or double or triple that amount of money over their lifetime just by taking a few simple steps to keep themselves healthy.

Mundt: And, Carol, what would you say some of those steps would be, some of those steps for maybe someone who is saying I’m 15, 20, maybe even 50 pounds overweight, how do I even start and where do I start?

Voss: You might even just start by adding a healthy snack every day. Maybe that's your choice, your way. Maybe it's walking fifteen minutes, taking a break at work. So it's all those little steps add up, and if you think of it in terms of, you know, the big picture, it really gets kind of difficult psychologically and physically to do.

Mundt: That's one of the problems here, and Matt was talking about it. There's a barrier that builds as our weight builds. We slide deeper into depression perhaps. We're more sad. Our life seems to be turning down around a dark corner and we don't see a way out of it, and actually the way out of it is much harder to get to.

Delpesce: Yes, that's true. And, you know, there's -- many of us have been taught that sort of the "no pain, no gain" concept, that you have to work really hard and it's going to hurt and you have to sweat and it's going to be uncomfortable in order to make progress, and that's really not true. Anything that you do is better than nothing, and so for someone even that is as overweight as he was, to make small steps and just to become active and walk or bicycle for fifteen or twenty or thirty minutes a day is better than what he's doing and it would make a huge difference.

Mundt: Can you tell me about a program that -- here in Iowa, there's one called "Lighten Up Iowa," for instance, that encourages Iowans to make their health a little bit better. What are some of the steps in that program?

Voss: And I think the biggest and most successful step is the whole team approach and getting the support of one another to help you set your healthy goals. So even though the program may be for a limited amount of time, hopefully the tips that you have learned over that period will carry over through the rest of the year, and then again those partners in that effort will continue to build you up on, oh, you know, I’m feeling down, I’ve gained a couple of pounds. You can get back on track, you know. So maybe one day didn't go well. Next week you can still do some things to get back on track.

Mundt: Friends and family, others who may go work out with you or run, they become a support group.

Voss: And then it also helps to take a look at, you know, are there things around you like in your community that can help support those efforts: Are there places that you can go eat that you've got some choices, you know, portion control, half portions, other opportunities; you know, take home half that meal, use it for tomorrow's lunch; save you some money on those types of things; are there things the community like the built environment; are there places to walk, is it safe, are they well lit, are there bike paths? So, you know, the community can help with that and, of course, local policies that can be made and supported.

Mundt: It's a whole listing of -- Vernon, what perhaps does the "y" offer for adults who are looking to make their lives a little bit better, control their weight a little bit more, get more active?

Delpesce: Well, we have a variety of them, and I agree with what Carol said when it comes to the social aspect. You can't underestimate that. But I think what's important and what we try and work on is to be able to provide activities that people enjoy doing, because if they don't enjoy it, they're not going to do it.

And for someone who -- and again, you take Matt, and to think that he would go and participate in an aerobics class probably isn't going to be something that's going to work for him, but walking on a treadmill, a water exercise class or something like that might. So I think one of the key elements is to find an activity that you actually enjoy doing, and that will help with your success. I think the other thing is, you know, everyone is different. Some people like the social aspect and that -- it makes it more fun. People hold each other accountable. And then you have others that possibly work around people all the time, and they want to do something alone.

Mundt: They want to go run by themselves --

Delpesce: Just to get away and to have some peace and quiet because they're always around -- you know, around other people. So really it has to be done -- there's no one size fits all.

Mundt: Talk a little bit more about the programs that are offered through the Iowa department public health, programs that you encourage in Iowa.

Voss: Well, we have "Iowans Fit for Life," which is bringing together multiple partners across the state. We actually have over 450 partners that are interested in doing something about this epidemic, so we have written a comprehensive state plan and have different action groups that are starting to put those plans into action, focusing on different areas, whether it's older adults, early childhood, educational settings, business and agriculture with work sites, all of those areas. We need you to look at the whole picture.

Mundt: And you're providing them resources for various groups or organizations or companies to be able to put into practice.

Voss: That's right. And we're also trying to -- we realize that we don't have all the resources ourselves to do it, and that's why we would really need our partners to help with this effort. We don't all need to be out doing our own thing. We need to work together on this problem.

Tags: fitness Iowa nutrition obesity


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