American Obesity: A Heavyweight Problem

We are an obese nation. Alas I contribute to the problem, but like many Americans I hope to lose weight. This week I am doing something about it. I am writing this week’s Struming from Durham, NC at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center. I’ve been here 9 different times over a 15 year period.  One could say “9 times Lonny, what kind of program is that? I guess it doesn’t really work, does it” Nothing is further from the truth. More on that later.

The facts on American obesity are overwhelming:

1. 2/3 of the U.S. are classified as overweight (Body Mass Index—BMI > 25-30) or obese (BMI>30). Unfortunately I am in the >30 category. I aspire to be merely “overweight” in the near future.

2. Fully 36% of Americans are in the more serious obese category. Obesity does not discriminate against race as the prevalence of obesity among Black and Hispanic is even higher.

3. Childhood obesity is a dramatically growing issue. What’s particularly alarming is the obesity rate among 2-4 year olds in lower income households, approaching 20%.

We have not always been an obese nation; however the recent trends are not good.

–We eat more foods and larger portions, particularly high caloric foods & drinks

–We exercise less

–We make poor food choices.

The cost of obesity is overwhelming and contributes to skyrocketing health care costs. Annual medical expenditures attributable to obesity have doubled in less than a decade and may be as high as $150 Billion according to a recent study.The resulting health risks are far greater among the obese:

–Coronary heart disease

–Type 2 diabetes

–Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)

–Hypertension (high blood pressure)

–High total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides


–Liver and Gallbladder disease

–Sleep apnea and respiratory problems

Weight control has been a lifelong issue for me and yet it is a fight I need to continue to fight. “No mas” is not an option in this fight (sorry, I just saw the 30 for 30 on the Leonard-Duran fight). I have successfully lost weight over time. I am 30 pounds below my maximum weight but also 30 pounds above my lowest 40+ weight. So while I consider Duke a success, I need far more work. In fact I can’t imagine what new weight plateaus I may have hit without the Duke Diet & Fitness program.

So what’s this Duke program all about? It’s a structured program about:

–healthy eating


–learning about nutrition

–understanding the emotional triggers that cause overeating

–medical issues

dfcThe Duke Diet & Fitness Center is a world class program. I love it. I am motivated each time I return and begin to lose again each time. I wish for every person suffering from obesity the opportunity to attend this kind of program, or some modification that fits their lifestyle. While my return “check-ups” are short (5 days), there are many who stay here weeks, even months. I respect those that are trying. There are tremendous success stories at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center. It is not a “weight loss” program—it is a life saving program. It enables those who succeed to see more more birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations—the real moments in everyone’s life.

On a personal note, it’s too easy to blame family genetics on my obesity and diabetes. Like millions of Americans, I became a type 2 diabetic in my adult life. My parents were both diabetics and died at young ages—my dad (46-Heart Attack) and Mother (72-stroke). Certainly a wake up call.  None of us know how long we have on this planet, but my goal is that I intend to lose sufficient weight to eliminate the use of oral meds to control my blood sugar. I accomplished this once, but have slipped since. I intend to stick around a long time. (I hope). I want to continue to play in a basketball league. I want to dunk some day (that’s why they make 9 foot baskets)

Strumings is largely about marketing, so you might wonder what this topic has to do with marketing. We need to admit that us marketers are part of the problem. We make foods look enticing. I’ve worked with the best food stylists and photographers in the creation of advertising. In the 80s, I was the account manager of major food accounts at BBDO—Pillsbury and Campbell Soup. We did our job well. However, there’s a reason the Pillsbury Doughboy (aka Poppin’ Fresh) has a tummy. Sorry Poppin’, you may be cute, but you’re obese too. Smart food marketers have now awaken to their responsibility. Good. Let them plow a good portion of their profits into programs that help our nation, not just foods that don’t. I also welcome caloric content on menus and in ballparks. I used to love Nathan’s Fries at Yankee Stadium, but I chocked on seeing the 1200 calories on the sign. No more Nathan’s Fries for me. I even like Mayor Bloomberg’s idea of eliminating 20 ounce soft drinks.

As we debate the merits of the Affordable Care Act and its impact, we should all remember the best way to reduce health care costs for all is to become a healthier nation.

This week I know I am trying to do my part. But weight control is not a week long sprint at a world class program. It’s a lifetime marathon and I hope to run a long and healthy race.

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