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Moving the Needle: The Real Problem with Obesity

By December 12, 2013 No Comments

Mike Spezzano leads Daxko T2 Consulting’s Program Leadership and Healthy Living service. His 35-year-career includes 12 years as YMCA of the USA’s National Health and Fitness Consultant where he designed 30 certification courses for the national YMCA movement. He has also appeared as a health and fitness expert nationally in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Men’s Health, and USA Today. Mike works directly with organization staff to develop innovative and effective programs that respond to community needs and keep organizations relevant.

I have long noted that when people talk about the epidemic of obesity, I cringe because they’ve got it all wrong. Obesity is a symptom of behavior: the epidemic is really one of inactivity and unhealthy eating habits. The end result may be “obesity,” although not always. To address this issue one must work with people and help them modify behavior or adopt healthier behaviors one person at a time. So to move the needle, one must first understand what the heck the issue is, and what a desired outcome looks like.

There is so much negativity around the term, “obesity,” and the perception of people who are overweight that we continue to undermine efforts. “Fighting”, “tackling”, and “combating” the issue all come from a negative place. These are people we are talking about, people with feelings and self-esteem who are viewed by society as sick or not normal. I realize the American Medical Association recently classified obesity as a disease, a decision that continues to be hotly debated in health fields. However, consider that the way someone is classified as “obese” is an imprecise and often inaccurate measurement, the Body Mass Index (BMI). Everyone agrees that’s it is flawed, but it’s all we’ve got. A Forbes magazine article on this topic stated “Defining obesity as a disease makes little medical sense, since, rather than judging a person’s health based solely on his/her BMI, a physician needs to examine each patient as an individual, take a detailed history, and assess clinical parameters, such as blood insulin, cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.”

So yes, if an organization were to undertake an initiative to overcome inactivity and unhealthy eating, they would need a sensible system, plan, timetable with methodologies and powerful new tools. Because it’s not something the organization knows how to do, or has done very well. Heck, no one has; all you need to do is look at the state of health in this country. Lifestyle disease abounds and yet we have a “health and fitness” industry still focused on the 15% of the population that would be active and exercise anyway without it.

An organization that wants to make a difference in health in their community would need:
1. A clear, consistent message. One that is about people, not “obesity”
2. A leader who understands this and is passionate about making a difference
3. A team that is fully bought in, with the skills required
4. New, creative programs and methods to help people make the change they desire
5. Tools for data collection, tracking, communication, motivation
6. Community partners to bring expertise, clout, know-how, and funding

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