Fighting Obesity is a Tough Row to Hoe, Experts Acknowledge

Together, biology and our environment make a formidable foe against our tools for combating obesity, like more sidewalks, brighter stairwells and restrictions on unhealthy food, says John Peters, chief strategy officer and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

After all, we’re hard-wired to like fat, sugar and salt. (Don’t even try and deny it.) And we’re surrounded by glorious gobs of it, which we can eat whenever we feel like it.

Combine that with the terrible conveniences of modern life. We’re sedentary for much of the day, glued to our office chairs, our cars, our sofas.

Even the environments in which we live also have a strong role. Obesity clusters in zip codes and social networks, affected by things like poverty, employment, access to public transportation and healthy food, and social and cultural expectations.

Scientists from Anschutz and elsewhere presented evidence at last month’s national symposium on obesity supporting the energy balance idea of why we’re fat – you know the one: energy in, energy out – and assessing some of the solutions available to offices, schools and restaurants.

Some of the findings are pretty depressing. It’s much easier to lose weight than it is to maintain that loss, for one thing. We learned from Dr. Daniel Bessesen, a CU professor of medicine, how chubby rats live on a trajectory to fatness that can be interrupted by diet restrictions or exercise, but which bounces back the minute the diet or exercise program ends. And it turns out the human body responds to weight loss by spending less energy, by changing its metabolism to promote weight regain, and by getting really, really hungry.

We learned from Bret Goodpaster, a researcher at the Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute in Orlando, about the Antarctica diet, the only diet in which you really can eat as much as you want and still lose significant weight. The catch? You’ll have to drag a sled to the South Pole. The pounds will drop off.

So where does that leave us? Pass the chips and I’ll tell you: The only mystery is that we aren’t all breaking 300.

However, there are positive things to try, not that it’ll be easy.


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