News today on the obesity war front is mixed. Two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, but at least we're leveling off from the steep climb that started developing in the late 1980s, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And for women, the news seems particularly rosy. Our obesity rates remained virtually unchanged over the past decade.
I was also pleased to see another finding published Tuesday in the International Journal of Obesity indicating that having a little extra fat on the butt, hips, and thighs might actually protect against heart disease and diabetes. Hallelujah!
Of course, having too much fat on the belly is bad. Very bad, because it increases inflammation, which is thought to be involved in heart disease, cancer, and other life-shortening diseases. Thus, women who tend to be apple-shaped, with thin thighs and a thick waist, need to pay more attention to a few extra pounds than those who are pear-shaped, with big hips and thighs. So, too, do the nearly 36 percent of women who are obese—defined as having a body mass index of 30 or above or, for a 5-foot, 4-inch woman, weighing 175 pounds or more. Black women are in particularly dire straits: Nearly 50 percent of them are obese. "Obesity is a risk factor for a variety of chronic conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, stroke, heart disease, certain cancers, and arthritis," write the study authors, who work for the National Center for Health Statistics.
Unfortunately, no one knows exactly how to solve to obesity problem. Posting calorie counts on restaurant menus—now mandated in New York City and something that could go nationwide if the healthcare reform bill passes—could help us make better choices. We also need to be more active as a natural part of our lives. While strolling around Amsterdam two months ago, I was struck by how slender the Dutch are. There's a strong preference for biking and walking, since driving through the old part of the city is extremely difficult because of the canals, narrow streets, and pedestrian traffic. Interestingly, I didn't see a single jogger. We should also consider revamping our phys ed classes to keep from turning kids off to exercise, as my colleague Katherine Hobson blogged today.
Sometimes, though, it seems like no matter how hard we try, we can't keep the pounds from creeping on or smooth out that "pooch" that we've had since our 30s. Previous pregnancies are certainly to blame for stretching out the connective tissue in our abdomen that binds muscles together. But plastic surgeon James Lyons tells me that women don't necessarily need tummy tucks to get their flat bellies back. He and other experts recommended these 6 Ways to Banish Belly Fat for Good.