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Time to confront America's obesity epidemic

If we are going to win the war against obesity, we have to lose


OK friends, its time for a serious discussion on a heavy topic: our weight. We are in denial by simply calling obesity an issue; frankly, it is among the most pressing health issues we face in the United States. by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - 'The Weight of the Nation' is a HBO television series intended to kick-start conversations and mobilze action to reverse the prevalence of obesity.

Two-thirds of adults in our nation are overweight or obese, as are one-third of our children. Being overweight causes life-long chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, strokes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Obesity has an economic impact on our nation as well; an estimated $147 billion is spent on obesity-related medical costs each year.

I know, I know - you've heard all this, but friends, take a good look in the mirror. Then, take a good look at those around you at work or in any public place.

Obesity is all around us and cannot be viewed simply as a personal dilemma any longer. The sad reality is that obesity is often preventable, but things in our society are causing our waistlines to expand and our health to decline. In fact, some experts believe today's children will be the first generation of young people in this nation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

It's time for a fresh approach.

The causes of the obesity epidemic are complex, ranging from genetics and biology, to the environments we live and work in, to the business of food and farming in America. The solutions will require work on many fronts. Individuals, families, scientists, community organizations, health care providers, small business owners, industry, government - each has a critical role to play in helping ensure that future generations of Americans are healthier and stronger than we are today.

HBO and the Institute of Medicine, in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health and in partnership with the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Kaiser Permanente, have launched The Weight of the Nation, a campaign to raise public awareness of the seriousness of the obesity epidemic. Over the course of three years, HBO researched the science and economics of obesity, talking to the country's leading experts on this issue and meeting hundreds of Americans who are struggling with - and overcoming - weight issues. HBO produced 'The Weight of the Nation' to be far more than a television series. It is intended to be a starting point for examining and discussing the effect obesity has on individuals, families, communities and the nation. Launched in May, the program is available to families, schools, community organizations and others to kick-start conversations and mobilize action to slow, arrest and eventually reverse the prevalence of obesity and bring our nation to a healthier weight.

My friend Dave Northfield, media relations manager for Kaiser Permanente, shared 'The Weight of the Nation' DVD set with me. The material is graphic, sobering and realistic, as well as encouraging. Dave also put me in touch with Dr. Phil Wu, a retired KP pediatrician who still works on community health initiatives work. We talked at length about the important messages of the campaign and how we can best share this information with you.

'The Weight of the Nation' is made up of four centerpiece films - 'Consequences,' 'Choices,' 'Children in Crisis' and 'Challenges.' The introduction to the series reads:

'The films explore the factors that drive obesity in our bodies and in our communities. They look at the effects on adults, children and our nation. They also examine how people become obese. In the most basic terms, obesity results from people eating and drinking more calories than their bodies use, causing the excess energy to be stored as fat. It's this accumulation of body fat that can lead to obesity, but it doesn't happen overnight - usually, small daily or weekly excesses over years gradually lead to obesity. However, as simple as this energy-in-energy-out equation is, there are many complex factors that affect it.

'As a country, Americans did not decide to gain weight. Our obesity epidemic is a result of change in the way we live. Fat and sugar have been added to food to make it taste good. Government policies have helped make food inexpensive, portions of food are larger and tasty food is now found everywhere. Sodas and other sugar-sweetened drinks are a major source of cheap calories. Foods that are filling, like fruits and vegetables, are more expensive than other foods, and the lack of supermarkets in some neighborhoods makes them less available. At the same time, children's outdoor play has been reduced due to safety concerns and the seductive appeal of television and video games. Too many communities don't have enough sidewalks, parks or safe places for physical activity.

'With all these changes to our food and our communities, it's clear we must move beyond the notion that the epidemic will be reversed solely through individual willpower. Instead, we need to make healthy choices easier choices in the places where we spend our time: homes, childcare facilities, schools, workplaces and communities. And we need to think about changes that will be sustained over time. The obesity epidemic took a long time to develop. We need to think about long-term, sustainable changes to end it.'

Over the next several weeks I will share information from the films - as much as I can condense into 30-or-so column inches. We are arranging a local screening of 'The Weight of the Nation' so that you can see the films firsthand and participate in discussions on the material. In the meantime, you can view it online at hbo.com/theweightofthenation.

Your first lesson is to determine your body mass index, BMI. The term will be used frequently in the films and you will want to know what it means. BMI is a ratio of weight to height that is used to screen for overweight and obesity. To determine your BMI, visit hbo.com/theweightofthenation . A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is within normal ranges; a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight and a BMI of more than 30 indicates obesity.

You might also want to 'know your numbers' - your blood pressure, triglyercides and total cholesterol levels. Ideal levels:

Blood pressure- less than 120/80

Triglyercides -149 or lower

Total cholesterol levels - less than 200

There is a powerful connection between being overweight or obese and having heart disease as an adult. The heart, our hardest-working muscle, spends every second of every day vigorously pumping blood to the farthest reaches of our bodies. The larger we become, the harder our hearts have to work to keep blood circulating. The bottom line: Being overweight or obese places you at a higher risk of developing heart disease and suffering a stroke as an adult.

Get your numbers, and I'll meet you back here next week.

Bon appetite! Eat something slimming!

The recipe today is from eatbetteramerica.com. Search the site for more low-calorie, delicious meals to serve your family.

Pork and Sweet Potato Kabobs

Makes two servings, two kabobs each

1/3 cup orange marmalade

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 pound dark-orange sweet potato

2 tablespoons water

1/2 pound pork tenderloin, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 small zucchini, cut into 8 slices

Heat gas or charcoal grill. In a 1-quart saucepan heat marmalade, rosemary and salt to boiling, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, set aside.

In 1-quart microwaveable bowl place sweet potato pieces and water. Cover loosely with paper towel. Microwave on high 2 to 3 minutes, stirring once, just until potatoes are tender (do not overcook). Drain sweet potatoes, rinse with cold water.

On each of 4 10-12 inch metal skewers, carefully thread pork, sweet potatoes and zucchini (cut sides facing out) alternatively, leaving 1/4-inch space between each piece

Place kabobs on grill over medium heat. Cover grill; cook 8 to 10 minutes, turning once and brushing with marmalade glaze during last 3 minutes, until pork is no longer pink in center.

1 serving: 370 calories, calories from fat 40; total fat 4 1/2 g; total carbohydrate 53g (dietary fiber 3g, sugars 32g), protein 28 g.

Recipe from EatbetterAmerica.com

Information from HBO.com/theweightofthenation was used to prepare this article.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext. 101, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..