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Tipping the Scales

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##### About the Author

Jeanne Faulkner is a freelance writer and registered nurse in Portland, Ore. Her work appears regularly in Pregnancy and Fit Pregnancy, and she has contributed articles to the Oregonian, Better Homes & Gardens, Shape and other publications.

Buddy, let me tell it like it is: America's got a big problem. We're not fat and happy. We're just fat. We're also developing a laundry list of deadly and life-altering diseases like type 2 diabetes (along with cardiac disease and cancer). We're dropping dead from our lack of exercise and poor eating habits, and leaving a trail of friends and family shaking their heads and saying, "It didn't have to be that way."

We're piling up medical expenses and digging our national health care crisis further into the grave. We can't sugar coat this problem and hope it will go away. Instead, we need to focus on the solution: losing the weight and reaping the benefits of better health. America, put down the French fries and get off the couch.

According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF): "Diabetes is the most preventable consequence of the obesity epidemic. In fact, the risk in type 2 diabetes appears to be mainly related to the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity. One in three Americans born today is predicted to develop diabetes as a consequence of obesity." One in three?! Come on, folks, that's not OK!

Why does obesity cause diabetes? William Raum, MD, PhD, endocrinologist with Legacy Health Systems in Portland, Ore., explains: "It's a critically dangerous cycle people can stop. Although many systems are involved, the most prominent is when someone is obese. Diabetes develops because excess fat causes resistance to their body's normal response to insulin. Unless they lose weight, the disease progresses and they need more insulin. The higher amounts of insulin stimulate their appetite so they eat more, which causes more fat deposit and more resistance to insulin. How do we slow this down or stop it? Weight loss."

What's the difference between obese and overweight, and how do you know where you stand? You can start by checking out our Body Mass Index with our health calculator(BMI is a measurement of body fat based on height and weight). A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal. You're overweight if it's between 25 and 29.9. A BMI greater than 30 means you're obese. According to the IDF, two thirds of adults with type 2 diabetes have a BMI of 27 or greater.

What's so bad about diabetes, anyway? The American Diabetes Association gives a comprehensive list of health complications caused by diabetes, including an increased chance for heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, amputation of limbs due to blood vessel and nerve damage, and other debilitating problems, such as depression and erectile dysfunction. Not such a sweet deal for anyone.

How about kids? They're gaining weight at alarming rates, and type 2 diabetes in children is epidemic. The number of kids who are overweight has doubled in the last 25 years, and, according to a study by the University of Michigan, obese children are twice as likely to develop diabetes than their thinner peers. Many have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, too, placing them at risk for heart disease.

Why is this happening? It comes right back to diet and exercise. Kids today don't go out and play as much as kids in earlier generations. They're not burning many calories when they're parked in front of their PlayStations and televisions. Schools in many areas have underfunded sports and fitness programs. And kids' diets are heavy on processed and fast foods filled with fat, corn syrup and sugar.

Maya Hunter, MD, pediatric endocrinologist at Emmanuel Hospital in Portland, Ore., says: "Even kids who play sports have trouble maintaining healthy diets. If practice is scheduled during the dinner hour, some parents feel they have no choice than to drive through a fast food place on their way home from work and on their way to their kid's events."

So what do we do to stop the madness? Say it with me here: Diet and exercise. According to the IDF, "Lifestyle interventions, including diet and moderate physical activity, can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 40-60 percent." According to Dr. Hunter: "Pediatricians used to tell parents their child would grow into their weight. Now we know that children who are obese when they're young are likely to grow up to be obese adults. If they can lose just ten percent of their body weight, their risk for disease goes down." Join one of our Healthy Living Programs and get tips and tools for losing weight and staying fit.

The News Isn't All Bad America seems to be wising up. Reports published by the Centers for Disease Control say that obesity rates in women have remained steady, neither increasing nor decreasing since 1999. Men's rates started leveling off around 2003. And children? Obesity among American schoolchildren has remained steady at about 32 percent after years of rapid increase. Some researchers say it's because kids just can't get any fatter, but other, more optimistic studies show that parent's are putting more focus and effort into improving their family's diet and exercise habits. Schools are focusing on healthier lunch options. Dr. Hunter says: "Even McDonald's offers healthier foods now in response to public demand. If parents really have to do drive-through for dinner, at least now they have better options."

Most people can drastically improve their BMI and risk for disease through healthy weight-loss programs that restrict calorie intake and increase calorie output. It's simple math: If you consume fewer calories than you burn, your body uses fat stores to supply its energy and you lose weight. If you've really tried and failed using standard weight loss methods, your doctor can guide you to other options such as medications and supervised programs. There's a solution out there for every one who is struggling with America's big problem.

Reprinted with permission from

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