Obesity: Does 'Just Say No' Work?

Obesity statistics released by a national group this week suggest it takes more than willpower to avoid being heavy. What do you think?


Know someone that's a little heavy? Maybe more than just a little heavy? Do you think that person just needs a little willpower to avoid obesity?

You know...if you could tell the person to just knock off the 48-ounce Big Gulp in the morning, and those two bowls of ice cream at night, they'd be fine, right?

Well, an national study on obesity statistics released this week by the Institute of Medicine suggests "individuals and groups can't solve this complex problem alone."

"People have a very tough time achieving healthy weights when inactive lifestyles are the norm and inexpensive, high-calorie foods and drinks are readily available 24 hours a day," said committee chair Dan Glickman of the study.

The report has specific recommendations on how to make people's trips to their bathroom scale in the morning a little less frustrating:

  • requiring at least 60 minutes per day of physical education and activity in schools
  • industry-wide guidelines on which foods and beverages can be marketed to children and how
  • expansion of workplace wellness programs
  • taking full advantage of physicians' roles to advocate for obesity prevention with patients and in the community
  • increasing the availability of lower-calorie, healthier children's meals in restaurants

What do you think? Is the sedentary lifestyle of many to blame for the obesity epidemic? Are high-fat and high-calorie foods, often cheaper than healthy alternatives, to blame? Or is it a matter of choice? Why can't people resist all the junk food if they really want to lose weight? Do we really need a societal change, at least here in America, before people take matters into their own hands?

Tell us your thoughts and share your comments. And take a moment to voice your opinion in the poll below.

Andrew Boone May 13, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Another significant cause of obesity is our choice to promote a very sedentary mode of transportation (motor vehicles) at the expense of more active modes of transportation (walking, bicycling, transit). Other countries (Germany, for example) and cities within our own country where fewer people drive and more walk, bike, or take transit (New York, San Francisco, for example), have lower obesity rates than the average American city. They benefit from lower health care costs as a result - and lower transportation costs.
Buck Shaw May 13, 2012 at 07:30 PM
Mr. Boone is that why you pay an extra 2% on all resturant bills in SF. Lower health care costs? ********************* You gotta love the Legislative Analyst's take on Prop. 29 I think it also applies here too. And I quote " For example, the state and local governments would incur future costs for the provision of health care and social services that otherwise would not have occurred as a result of individuals who avoid tobacco-related diseases living longer" I would just subsitute the word Tobacco for obeisity and what do you get?
commuter May 13, 2012 at 08:05 PM
A big part of the problem is that there is very active pro-obesity industry actively advertising their products to the American people (soft drinks, beer, junk food, fast food). The alternatives get much much less media coverage (regular exercise, smaller portions, walking and biking instead of SUVs, etc.). The design of our neighborhoods also affects obesity. Public transit is terrible in Silicon Valley (unless you live and work within walking distance of Caltrain stations). Most of the big employers are hard to walk to. Bicycle routes are poor in many areas. Grocery stores are not within walking distance of most homes. Countries that have much less of an obesity problem (many parts of Asia and Europe) generally have infrastructure that encourages a more active lifestyle.
Andrew Boone May 13, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Buck, the extra fee you pay at a San Francisco restaurant (2% is common) doesn't mean that health care costs an extra 2% per person in San Francisco. It means that San Francisco is requiring all employers with at least 20 employees to contribute to the city's Healthy San Francisco program, which provides health care for all residents who can't obtain health care another way (through their employer or a government program). The cost of health care depends a lot on how healthy people are. If people make good food and exercise choices, they reduce the chance of suffering from a wide range of diseases, including high blood pressure and diabetes. Health care is paid for through a combination of employer-provided insurance, individually-purchased insurance, government-funded programs, and out-of-pocket by individuals. In the end, we (The People) pay for it in one way or another. A healthier population enjoys lower health care costs, on average, per person. In San Francisco, obesity is less common that in a typical American city. Obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes, are also less common. Several studies have shown the connection between active transportation (walking, bicycling, transit) and reduced rates of obesity and obesity-related diseases.
Andrew Boone May 13, 2012 at 08:35 PM
commuter, Who are you? You always leave such informed and excellent comments on transportation-related issues. We should work together to help Menlo Park improve its transportation policies. There are many upcoming opportunities to do so, such as the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan and next year's update of the city's General Plan. There are many ways you could help out, even if you're only able to contribute a small amount of time. Contact me at nauboone@gmail.com if you're interested. Thanks.
Diana May 13, 2012 at 09:43 PM
I think it's important for people to watch what they eat and exercise more - even doing little things like taking the stairs, parking further away from the grocery store, etc. can add up. But, some people have medical or genetic issues that make it a lot more difficult from them to lose weight. As a society, we need to help people be as healthy as possible and stop looking at a person's weight as the only indication of a healthy life. Health at Every Size is a great resource for helping us realize that a person can have good health and be larger than BMI charts indicate as healthy. And conversely a person could be thin and very unhealthy. So, weight is not the only indicator of health.
Melissa May 14, 2012 at 12:06 AM
We have a public health emergency with evil companies putting out misinformation to keep you all very confused. When this comes out Phillip-Morris will look angelic. Look at page 7 at http://stopsmartmeters.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Biol-Effects-EMFs-2012-NZ1.pdf Obesity is just the tip of the iceberg! It's not about will power or eating habits--we are all at great risk for not only obesity, but cancer, leukemia, "chronic fatigue", depression, insomnia, etc.
sister madly May 14, 2012 at 12:35 AM
if by "low calorie choices" you mean processed foods laden with fake sugars, fake fats and plastics then dr. you FAIL. and even IF you live near mass transit, like i do, the schedules have never quite worked out for me...
sister madly May 14, 2012 at 12:42 AM
actually replying to andrew boone... if you have the luxury of living and working in the same city - like many residents of sf, ny and german cities which are much older and were built - organically - to suit a walking public (as in long before cars were invented) - then walking and biking are a realistic option. for someone who works in milpitas but lives in palo alto, not so much.
sister madly May 14, 2012 at 12:44 AM
unions were much stronger in the 50s, taxes were much higher and government regulation stronger...so yes, i agree back to the 50s!
Edward sawacki May 14, 2012 at 03:41 AM
I blame the food industry, FDA, and our government for allowing the manufactures of food to slowly kill us for profit. Diabetes and Obesity is at an all time high! High fructose corn syrup, White flour, processed foods, pesticides, food dye, preservatives, chemicals, additives are to blame. Yes people make poor choices and only recently has there been alternatives to unhealthy food. Our government is allowing the food industry to slowly poison us for profit. Then they sell you medications to "treat" your disease and all the while they are laughing to the bank.
Bmorgan May 14, 2012 at 04:33 AM
There really is no one to blame. The reason people are obese is because they are genetically inclinded to be that way or they have really unhealthy eating habits. When it comes down to staying fit it boils down to the old trick exercise, exercise, & watching what you eat. No quick medical fixes can even address the problem maybe temporarily but not really. Staying active is key. I agree with Diane above.
Cris May 14, 2012 at 05:47 AM
yes, if our cities were not quite so sprawling and we had reliable, timely public transportation and safe bike lanes, I agree that would make a huge difference. there are so many levels to the obesity crisis and the healthcare crisis. It appears overwhelming...
Steve Russell May 14, 2012 at 06:12 AM
We have a huge problem with the prevalence and easy availability of tasty but unhealthy food choices. So as a society we need to promote healthy eating by making healthy foods more available, AND we need to take responsibility for our personal food choices. There’s a pizza Hut, McD’s, BK and KFC on every corner, but try to find a place other than Fresh Choice that has healthy fruits, salads and whole grain foods available. My personal solution is to carry healthy snacks with me, but it’s not always easy. It would be nice if there were as many healthy, inexpensive fast food restaurants around as there are ones that push salty fats and starches. Exercise helps too. You don’t have to go to the gym 2 hours a day to lose weight and feel better, you just have to get up off the coach and stay out of the car some of the time. It would be nice if cities and towns were set up to make walking or biking a more attractive option than hopping into the car to get down town to shop or dine. It’s true that some of us are genetically challenged to gain weight than others, but we can all benefit from more exercise and healthy eating, and we’ll all benefit from the savings in health costs and the increase in productivity from a healthier work force that will come out if we can personally make better diet and exercise choices, and as a society we make it easier to make these choices.
Andrew Boone May 14, 2012 at 08:02 AM
sister madley, Yes, in many older cities it's easier to get around without driving because most newer cities have been designed for cars, which usually means that other modes of transportation are less convenient. But it's not that complicated to direct urban development in such a way that reduces our reliance on automobiles and gives people more transportation choices. The percent of Menlo Park and Palo Alto residents who drive alone to work has dropped from about 75% to 65% over the last ten years. Why? Part of the reason is that walking, bicycling, and transit have all been made a little easier to do. Caltrain service is more frequent, and there are more shuttles, bike lanes, and sidewalks. The improvements have been modest, but every little bit helps. No, not everyone can be expected to walk, bike, or take transit. Some live too far from work or shopping, or may need a car to perform their job. Some have disabilities that prevent them from walking or bicycling. And some people just prefer driving. That's ok. But we can make it easier for more people to walk, bike, or take transit for more trips. How? By continuing to do what we're already doing - making small incremental improvements over time - a few more sidewalks and crosswalks this year, a few more bike lanes next year, another shuttle the next, etc. With more transportation choices, we'll have lower transportation and health care costs, less traffic congestion, cleaner air, and safer streets.
Debra Leschyn May 14, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Hi. I agree food consumption is complicated. I think sugar is nefarious and addictive. 12 step programs exist for a reason. Food addiction is real. Exercise is helpful and part of the solution. Overeaters Anonymous is a free 12 step program available everywhere. therecoverygroup.org is a 24 hour online meeting room, with OA meetings every three hours. For me, I do not eat sugar and I jog for 20 minutes daily. I dropped 60 lbs and I feel great. I also do 12 step to deal with my food addiction. Society can change and promote healthier choices, but ultimately we are responsible for our health. But we don't have to do it alone.
TMC May 14, 2012 at 09:54 PM
I agree with some of Debra's points (and kudos for dropping 60 pounds). But as a perpetual weight watcher, it's not just a matter of "saying no" or putting down the donut. Some people with weight problems eat far healthier or much less than others. I know "skinny" people who eat WAY more than I do. So it's not just about will power. But in order for any plan to work, the person who needs to lose the weight needs to WANT to lose the weight. Otherwise it's not going to work. Just like the person who needs to stop drinking isn't going to be able to just because someone told them they should. It starts in the head. Am I the only one who is puzzled as to why we continue to have such a problem with obesity when we have so many tools at our disposal such as the food labeling (that wasn't around 20, 30 years ago), the low or no-calorie choice drinks, the plethora of healthy frozen foods (Lean Cuisine and the like), the availability of farmer's markets? Why is that?
Karl Sonkin May 14, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Here's a suggestion: take a look at HBO's "Weight of the Nation" tonight, co-sponsored by Kaiser Permanente. It's a 4-part multi-platform documentary aimed at the epidemic of overweight and obesity in the US. Don't "have" HBO: the documentary is "free" and "open" on many cable systems and at HBO.com. And consider taking a walk.
Tess May 15, 2012 at 12:20 AM
I HATE "walking", I truly do - and I sit in front of a computer all day at work. So . . . I never sit while watching TV at home - I do shuffles, squats, side-to-sides and I eat my snack (popcorn) one kernel at a time - I have to walk downstairs to get a kernel, come back up to watch TV, go back down to get a second kernel . . . Crazy huh? but, that's how much I hate "walking" . Does it work? well, I'm only five lbs over the ideal for my age and height - but then I have high cholesterol. Talk about genes with THAT problem. I'm practically a vegetarian but I have super high cholesterol - go figure. I just think 90% of us can do something to keep from becoming obese - one popcorn kernel at time may not be for everyone - but hey, be creative. Do you WANT to lose weight or not? Are you doing this for YOU - not for a prize, not for your spouse, not for the doctor --- but for YOU? Hope I find the HBO Karl is talking about.
HMB Dreaming May 15, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Yearning for the 50's, are you? Yes, back then things worked better. Want to know why? Almost three times as many American workers in the 50's were represented by unions as compared to today. Tax rates, particularly on the rich, were much higher, with marginal income tax rates on the highest earners set at 90 percent. Yes, you read that right. And government employed millions of Americans while spending tax dollars to build our country's infrastructure. Think the interstate highway system. And, oh yeah, a republican president (Eisenhower) worked cooperatively and effectively with a democratic congress. As a country, we believed that all things were possible and trusted the federal government and we accomplished much. Just a little reality to aid the conversation.
Bob Winters May 15, 2012 at 09:30 PM
To further your point, here's a Disneyland home movie from 1956, I dare you to find a single obese visitor. http://vimeo.com/6016945
Doug Radtke May 16, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Marginal tax rates were higher in the 50s, but the effective tax rate was much lower than the published rates. My grandpa had tax returns from the Jimmy Carter years even in his garage where he had boxes of gas receipts because gas tax used to be deductible. By the time Reagan got around, practically nothing is deductible for the standard deduction filer anymore. Even Schedule A consists mostly of taxes paid and nothing much else. Unions were stronger because there was actual labor. Nothing is made in America anymore. People were proud to buy to buy made in the USA. Now everything we buy is crap from China. As for obesity, more families cooked at home... eating out wasn't an EVERYDAY affair... the prevalence of junk food wasn't as big.... high fructose corn syrup didn't exist... kids went outside to play... and we didn't work office jobs with sedentary lifestyles
Doug Radtke May 16, 2012 at 02:08 PM
How is any of the transportation issues related to people guzzling down soft drinks, junk food, and fast food? Countries that have public transportation infrastructure do so out of necessity. Ever try driving a car in Hong Kong? It has nothing to do with obesity and encouraging a more active lifestyle. If you want any indication of the ineffectiveness of public transportation, just look at CalTrain. The daily ridership does not validate the existence of it.... and people want to spend MORE on public transportation. There's a $16 billion debt in Sacramento. There's bigger fish to fry people.
Bob Winters May 17, 2012 at 03:48 PM
@Doug, have you ridden CalTrain since gas rose above $4/gal? I would estimate my morning and evening commutes are 85 - 90% full (150% when the Giants are playing). There was a flyer on my seat this morning announcing a meeting to discuss a proposed increase in service.
Doug Radtke May 17, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Bob, the statistics just don't support an increase in funding http://www.caltrain.com/Assets/Stats+and+Reports/Ridership/2011+Caltrain+Ridership+Counts+FINAL.pdf The weekday ridership is below 40,000. We'll say it's 40,000 for arguments sake on a daily basis. That's less than the population of one municipality like San Bruno. Factor in you have stops between San Francisco and San Jose, and you can see it's a piddling trivial amount of people. BART on an average this part April, serviced 373,973 people http://www.bart.gov/about/reports/ridership.aspx On some levels it's not fair to compare the two, but I just don't see CalTrain ridership high enough to devote pumping more money into. 50% of the costs are subsidized already. None of CalTrains stops were ever convenient for me. Infrequent servce. Stations a million miles from work. Anytime I ever had to sync up with the light rail in San Jose, I would get off my train........ only to miss the light rail connection because planning is awful. VTA and CalTrain are simply awful.
yesenia May 17, 2012 at 04:23 PM
a little bit of everything. quality food is more expensive. cheaper food is loaded with food additives that mess with body function/hormones etc... lack of excersice. lack of will power. food addiction (from all the chemicals that are in processed food). lack of family/friends support. lack of love for self. hereditary (yes, some people can eat junk food galore and never get fat, but their insides are messed up (skinny does not always = healthy. while others blow up from seeing others eat, lol!) denial. hmmm, what else?
yesenia May 17, 2012 at 04:27 PM
tess: have you heard that good//bad cholesterol is a bunch of quackary? just another way to get more poeople on meds. food for thought. you should look into that and see what you find.
Courtney Carreras May 17, 2012 at 05:04 PM
I think a big contributor to unhealthy live style is the pace of life today. Every one is in such a hurry, stressed and angry. Walking or biking to destinations takes more time, cooking a meal at home takes more time. People are looking for fast ways to get their errands done. The 40-hour work week is gone, now you are expected to work 50 or 60 hours a week. I think we need to slow down and do better at balancing work/life. Its just easier in such a hectic world to drive the car and give convenience foods to your family. One other contributor is the irrational fear the media has instilled in parents that their kids can not go out and play at the park alone, or down the street at their friends house without risking their lives. Kids are kept so close at hand, that unless mom or dad has time to take them to the park, the kids stay in and play video games, watch TV, or do other indoor activities. There also needs to be changes in food manufacturing. Those ads about how high fructose corn syrup is not harmful - in moderation - are hysterical. The point is, the stuff is put in EVERYTHING, so there is not such thing as moderation. My husband and I once wrote to a company who made rice and bean packets that were super high in salt. They responded that taste tests proved that people like the high salt version better. This is ridiculous, just keep loading everything up with salt and HFCS and then wonder why people are unhealthy.
Bob Winters May 18, 2012 at 03:37 PM
I see your point Doug, it works for my commute, so IMHO it's great. I can walk to Caltrain, grab a 5 minute VTA ride (included in my 2-Zone Monthly Pass) and walk from Middlefield VTA to work. Even when I worked at Cisco in Milpitas, Cisco provided shuttle service from Mt. View to their campuses. When I was riding a year or two ago, the trains were empty, I can't say the same anymore.
yesenia May 18, 2012 at 04:23 PM
oh, and this is another thought as to why obesity is a big problem in america nowadys, "SOY Poisoning-+ Flouride and Chlorine + Canola = DAMAGED thyroid and damaged pancreas-destroyed colon from these foods--there is the sugar overload in the foods--plastic being used as fat--breads and cereals that are GMO even if they say organic--Vaccinations adding aborted fetus ( human) + the inflamming pollutants from chem trails all play a role---when we can get back to eating real food again--this will clear out and people will get there bodies back."


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