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Portion sizes, inactivity, genes cited as key causes of Americans’ weight gain

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Twenty years ago a bagel measured three inches in diameter and had 130 calories. Today its size has doubled and its calorie count nearly tripled. A cheeseburger rang in at 333 calories 20 years ago; today it registers at 590.

Like bagels and cheeseburgers, Americans are getting larger, said John Latham, an exercise physiologist who runs a wellness program for federal agents at Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is also on the advisory council of Fit 4: A LifeWay Wellness Plan.

“The Lord laid it on my heart to share this information with you because of the trends I’m seeing in this country,” Latham told a group attending his seminar, “Winning the war on weight gain” during a discipleship and ministry teams conference at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, July 7-11.

“We can only begin the change process by awareness. If we are totally unaware of how obesity takes a toll on our health, then we won’t know how to change it,” said Latham, a member of West Park Baptist Church in Knoxville.

Newspapers and news magazines are filled with stories about obesity rates and the lawsuits springing from them, he said. Last year, two overweight teenage girls sued McDonald’s for making them obese, and people laughed. In July, however, Kraft Foods, maker of Velveeta cheese and Oreos, announced it will rein in its portion sizes and develop healthier products, apparently feeling the legal pinch.

In the 1960s, only 10 percent of the nation was considered obese with a body mass index (BMI) over 30. Today, one-fourth of all Americans are obese, Latham said. Half the nation is overweight with a BMI ranging between 25 and 30.

Body mass index, he explained, is weight in relationship to height. To find BMI, he said a person should take his/her weight, divide it by height in inches, divide that number by height in inches again, and multiply by 703. Even easier, he said, is to visit LifeWay’s Fit 4 website (www.fit4.com) and use the BMI calculator found under strength/health calculators.

If obesity were just an issue of appearance, perhaps health alarms would not be clanging, Latham said. “But it is costing our country almost $100 billion in healthcare a year.”

Some of the health problems associated with obesity, he said, include:

Type II diabetes

Coronary heart disease


Colon cancer

Sleep apnea



Back pain

Breathing problems

“The U.S. Surgeon General has issued a call to action to be active and eat well,” Latham noted.

He acknowledged that being overweight or obese “has a genetic component. If someone has no obese parent, his chance of becoming obese is low. If someone has one obese parent, his chance of becoming obese is 40 percent. And if both parents are obese, the chance of becoming obese is 80 percent.”

Environmental factors also play a significant role, Latham said.

“Despite obesity having a strong genetic determinant, the genetic composition of the population does not change as rapidly as it has in the past few years where we’ve seen huge jumps in obesity,” he said. “Therefore a large increase in obesity must reflect major changes in non-genetic factors.

“What we’ve seen in the last few years is not being caused by a bad gene pool, but a toxic environment,” Latham stated.

Among other factors he cited as causing scales to tilt higher:

— Portion distortion. “Portions are huge,” he declared. Today’s 6.9-ounce portion of French fries has 610 calories or 400 more calories than a 2.4-ounce portion 20 years ago. (Check out the portion distortion quiz at http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/portion/.)

— Savvy supermarkets. “They have studied you. When you walk in a grocery store, you are not in a friendly environment. High-cost, high-calorie products are the easiest to find. For every minute in a grocery store, you spend an extra $1.30. Always, always take a list.”

— Restaurant up-sizing. “When my wife and I go to dinner, we always split a meal and we never leave hungry.”

— Marketers. “They know what they are doing, and they are there to sell you more. They are not concerned about your weight.”

— Labor-saving devices, like elevators, escalators. “Stay off them. We don’t exercise enough as it is. We no longer have public sidewalks or enough recreation areas. We hop in our car to go to the corner store.”

Weight loss, Latham said, simply comes from taking in fewer calories than you expend.

“For every 3,500 calories you take in and don’t expend, you gain one gram of fat,” he noted. “If you need to lose weight, and you didn’t put it on overnight, you’re not going to take it off overnight.”

Half a pound a week is a good goal, he said. “That’s 26 pounds a year.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TARGETING THE POUNDS.

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  • Terri Lackey