Forget The Obesity Statistics…

I don’t need to see the statistics. I grew up in Mississippi – where a third of the population is now obese.

And I can tell you something’s changed for the worse in the 25+ years since I was in high school.

When I was in high school, my class of 200 people had only two members who were obese. Very few kids were overweight, period. Back then, the common wisdom was that only people with a rare pituitary problem were morbidly obese (anyone else remember those naive days?).

I had lunch in a small restaurant here in Dallas a couple of days ago, and on the way to the table I counted six people who were morbidly obese – and plenty of others were well above their healthy weight.

Every weekend, I see literally dozens of kids at unhealthy weights – and I have no trouble believing that 20-30% are obese, because I see round little kids everywhere that are red-faced, out of breath, and struggling just to keep up with the other kids.

We’re doing a lousy job of improving this situation.

Personally, I think that’s due to two reasons:

1) everyone thinks it’s someone else’s job

Employers are starting to financially penalize employees for certain higher-risk health behaviors. Now, I don’t know if that’s the right answer or not – in fact, I have some concerns about unintended consequences from policies like these. But one organization criticized the policy because “our society encourages people to be sedentary.”

Come on! Inactivity is nothing more or less than a zillion tiny personal decisions throughout the course of a day. No one made you hire a lawn service instead of doing your own yardwork. No one made you block traffic for 5 minutes waiting to get the absolutely closest spot at the grocery store. No one made you take the elevator instead of the stairs. For most of us, inactivity is a choice. It’s not dictated by our environment.

(And don’t get me started on kids drinking sugary soda at every meal…)

That said, no argument that many of us lead much more sedentary lives now. In fact, on average we eat FEWER calories than we did at the turn of the century. It’s just not enough less to offset the decline in physical activity.

2) our industry’s doing a poor job of connecting with consumers

Too much data. Too much generic advice. Not enough easy-to-understand, bite-size guidance tailored to specific groups of consumers.

Yet translating all the science and all the data into information that consumers actually use has a huge impact.

For the last year, a grocery store on the East Coast has labeled every single food product in the store with 0, 1, 2, or 3 stars, where 3 stars is the healthiest choice. Products with more stars sold more…and customers bought less of the no- or lower-starred items. So something as simple as a star changed behaviors.

(More on the program here).

Ironically, a recent story on this effort quoted a leading nutrition expert who was surprised that something this simple – with so little actual information – would affect people’s behavior. Grrr! She just doesn’t get it. That’s EXACTLY what works – and that’s WHY it works. Just like 100-calorie packs. Most folks don’t need or want all the details (heck, they don’t even understand the nutrition label, right?).

What have you seen that’s working – or not? What actions can we as individuals and as health and wellness professionals and businesses take? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Post your comments below (you have to provide your email address, but we don’t disclose it).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *