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2006-01-04 Healthy New Year means eating less and exercising

Just as in the 20th Century, smoking became an epidemic and a killer, it is looking increasingly likely that the big epidemic and killer of the 21st Century is obesity.

 

Having once weighed 19? stone (273 lbs), and being an award-winner in the field of weight fluctuation, I feel I can really speak from experience here. At one time it seemed as though obesity levels were particularly high only in the USA, but now it is clear that it is an epidemic of almost worldwide proportions, and literally spreading. Six out of ten Americans are overwieght, many morbidly obese, resulting in hundreds of thousands of untimely deaths.

 

In the 19th Century Horace Fletcher suggested chewing all food to a pulp, earning him the fitting title of "The Great Masticator". In the 20th Century, we had the cabbage soup diet, the grapefruit diet, the banana diet, the all-grape diet, Dr. Scarsdale's 2-week plan, Dr. Atkins and his controversial anti-carb high-protien diet revolution, the Cambridge diet, Herbalife, Slimfast, Weightwatchers, the South Beach Diet, and the "French women don't get fat- diet"! We became obsessed with diets in the 20th Century. Even Sesame Street's cuddly Cookie Monster changed his tune to "A cookie is a sometime food".

 

The now almost obsolete B.M.I. (Body Mass Index) became the traditional measure for obesity, and was a somewhat misleading rough estimate of body-fat, based on a person's height and weight, divided by their IQ, or was it just squared or something - who cares? But it is the fat around the abdomen which is the most health-damaging, so perhaps we ought to be measuring a person's waste-to-hip ratio instead. Larger hips often can indicate more muscle mass. Abdominal fat can produce hormones which can cause diabetes or high blood-pressure, and can seriously damage the liver. The risk of heart disease can be better measured with the aid of a measuring tape, rather than with a scale. Even the recommended weight for height scale seems outdated and somewhat irrelevant. Of course we need to stress the often greater risks of being underweight as well, and those pencil-thin teen- idols have a lot to answer for on that front.

 

As we say goodbye to the Old Year and say Hi to the New, surely it is time we all needed to take a serious look at our health, without getting obsessed by that bad word which ought to be banned from the English language - "Diet".

 

Why oh why can we not just keep it simple? Eat less and exercise more - isn't that the bottom line? The message needs to be nurtured at home. Jamie Oliver and others have helped re-educate and retrain school canteen cooks, so that kids are no longer simply opting for chicken nuggets and chips, but recognising nutritional substitutes, and actually enjoying the healthier alternatives. And it slowly dawns on children that some chicken nuggets are often more nugget than chicken.

 

But what about the middle-aged and the older generations? Well, what ever happened to the age-old `good balanced low-fat meal' and `everything in moderation'? We need to fully recognise the extreme contradictions out there in the food industry. What may appear to be food bargains - big-value meals, combos, going large or supersizing it, All-you-can-eat-buffets - may save some money, but jeopardise health. It is time for supermarkets to lower the price of healthier foods, and raise the prices of unhealthy foods. There is a lot of `portion distortion' going on in the food industry. Huge servings means more calories, and unless we are burning those calories, girths will grow. Rein in the portions. Eating ought to be less about `feeding', and more about the `dining experience'. A bowl of pasta ought to be tasty, not bloating. Common sense needs to prevail - treats ought to be treats, not part of the daily intake. Don't eat late in the evening. Be happy with what you CAN eat ; don't dwell on what you CAN'T. Be aware of the fat content in foods. With regards exercise, remember that aerobic exercise burns fat.

 

Yes, I know these are all obvious pointers, but in 2006, if you want to help slow down the obesity epidemic, and also get better skin, digestion, breathing and all-round health and fitness - keep it simple - eat less, and exercise more.