By Stephenie Karony

Wednesday, November 24, 1999

Americans are
overeating themselves
to early death

Question: Why are so many Americans overweight?

Answer: There are several reasons for the epidemic of obesity in America. I'll focus on what I believe to be the major causes.

It is a fact that average Americans are consuming fewer calories from dietary fat than they did 20 years ago. The problem is that at the same time we are consuming more overall calories. We are eating less meat, cheese, butter and ice cream, but there's been a steady increase in total calorie intake since the late 1970s.

Why? It's at least partly because of the overemphasis on consuming low-fat foods. Low-fat doesn't necessarily mean low-calorie; in fact, the opposite is usually true. Most low-fat foods contain a lot of sugar; a lot of sugar equals a lot of calories. You cannot eat endless amounts of any carbohydrate, simple or complex, and not expect to pack on the pounds, no matter what the food manufacturers say.

Another big reason for America's growing waistline is that people exercise too little. Regular aerobic exercise burns off body fat and lifting weights increases a person's resting metabolism. Both lead to a leaner, healthier body.

Next, people don't have the self-discipline necessary to change their unhealthy lifestyle behaviors. We have an overabundance of food in this country, and it's ready availability makes it easy to overeat.

Just look at the number of "all you can eat" buffets and fast food establishments emphasizing large portions. Extra large, jumbo and supersize translate to very high-calorie eating.

A growing number of Americans have undiagnosed food disorders.

Stress and comfort eating, binge eating, eating when depressed, sad or bored, eating to feel happy, and compulsive eating - all these patterns lead to obesity.

Using food as an addictive substance is another growing problem in this country. Once people become overweight, they often use food as a substance to deal with situational or emotional issues arising out of being overweight.

Another very important factor contributing to America's obesity is the burgeoning diet business. Annual revenues of this industry are a whopping $50 billion dollars.

It just takes common sense to realize that if these diets and diet products worked, then 55 percent of adult America wouldn't be fat.

People often use diets to avoid making the long-term lifestyle changes that would help them lose weight and keep it off.

Genetic differences in metabolism, differences in the regulation of hormones, mutations in obesity genes and variations in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system all help to explain, in part, why some people tend to gain weight, while others do not.

Obesity-related medical conditions are the second leading cause of death in America, right behind smoking-related illnesses.

Obesity results in the loss of 300,000 American lives every year.

Isn't it time we worked toward changing our collective behavior before we eat ourselves to death?

Stephenie Karony is a certified health
and fitness instructor, a personal trainer and the author of
"Body Shaping with Free Weights." Send questions to her at
P.O. Box 262, Wailuku Hi. Her column appears on Wednesdays.

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