The latest season of The Biggest Loser returns to NBC on October 15th , and while shows like Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition and The Biggest Loser may have good intentions, they may cause many viewers to think that weight loss is impossible without the resources these shows provide. As a result, the number of overweight and obese Americans continues to increase, while their confidence in achieving results for themselves continues to fall.
In the real world with real people, losing 140 pounds – or up to half of one’s body weight in a short time – is extremely unrealistic. Becoming a size 2 or looking like the celebrities in bikinis on the cover of People magazine are also unrealistic goals. By 2030, approximately 42% of Americans will be obese. So what are we going to do about it?
Instead of focusing on banning Big Gulps and taxing certain ingredients we need to focus on the substantive things we can do to actually begin to combat the disease of obesity. Currently, consumers have only three options when it comes to weight loss: radical surgery like gastric bypass, diet and exercise or weight loss pills. These three options do not work for many people. Doctors are now saying that if you can lose just 10% of your weight – even 20 to 30 pounds – you can drastically reduce your risk of diabetes and other obesity related diseases to promote a better quality of life. This is a more reasonable and obtainable goal than what The Biggest Loser is promising.
As a country, we need to shift our message to health instead of beauty and from extreme dieting to living healthier lifestyles. If you are serious about losing weight, don’t look at People Magazine’s Half Their Size stories and don’t watch The Biggest Loser. Get with a good doctor, make a realistic plan with realistic goals and get serious. The fact is that obesity is not going away anytime soon. The future of our country, in many ways, will depend on how we deal with the obesity epidemic. Obesity is the disease of our age and the only thing that can help combat it is a drastic shift of how our society perceives it. Being fat is no longer a joke. It is no longer funny, and it is certainly not something that should be made into entertainment.
With respect to medicine, the 19th century was about developing a basic understanding of hygiene. The 20th century was about understanding major diseases and the development of medicines, surgical procedures and analytical technologies to treat them.
Advances in medicine will continue, of course, but the priority for the 21st century, in the developed world at least, is behavior.
If people in developed societies would eat less, consume less alcohol, stop smoking, exercise more and put down their cell phones while driving, it is estimated that health care costs would decline by at least a third. This is not a fool's errand. The decline in smoking over the last 20 years is proof that behavioral patterns, even deeply ingrained ones, can be positively altered. It is not written in stone that people must just keep getting heavier or that texting while driving is so addictive that people are somehow incapable of resisting the urge to drive 70 miles an hour while googling directions to a pizza parlor. Self destructive behaviors can change if the government, corporations and the public are aligned.
Recently Mayor Bloomberg attracted considerable attention with his proposal that New York City ban the sale of super sized drinks. Opinion is divided on this initiative and it may or may not be enacted by the City Council. On the other hand, regardless of the outcome of this particular proposal, the debate about the role of government in encouraging or dictating healthier habits is only getting started.
By the way, for those who think New York City is a less healthy environment in which to live, Mayor Bloomberg points out that city residents enjoy a lifespan that is 2 1/2 years greater than the national average.