Holiday fat

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(Host) If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to lose a few pounds, commentator Nils Daulaire says you’ve got plenty of company.

(Daulaire) The holidays are over, but if you’re like me you’ve noticed that you’ve still got some visitors hanging around.

They’re those extra pounds of midriff fat that just aren’t going away. And you know where you got them.

It was that bowl of chocolates on your co-worker’s desk. It was the office party’s potato chips, the burgers you ate while shopping, that tin of butter cookies.

It was junk food. And while your seasonal sag may be a joke to some, millions of Americans are wearing so much junk-food flab they can hardly move.

Nutritionally hollow, junk food nevertheless carries a lot of weight. Sugar-loaded soft drinks, snacks and fast-food have contributed to an enormous change in what we weigh.

More than two-thirds of all American adults are overweight. One in three is obese. Weight-related illnesses, from diabetes to heart disease, kill hundreds of thousands every year, and cost our economy more than $100 billion annually.

The crucial problems, scientists agree, are junk food and lack of exercise.

Fast foods deliver far more calories than we need, then tweak our appetites to crave even more. To top it off, we’re doing much less to work the weight off. Television may be the biggest single factor changing the way we move — or don’t move. For example, kids who watch more than 21 hours of TV a week are twice as likely to be overweight.

Obviously, junk food, too much TV and too little exercise are lifestyle choices. We’re free to eat healthy foods, turn off the tube, go for a run.

We’re responsible for our own lives.

But let’s not be naive. A lot of money is spent promoting the lifestyle that brings on obesity, and it’s not spent by people who throw their money away. Food and soft drink companies spend 13 billion dollars a year just for TV ads targeting our kids. That kind of persuasive pressure is hard to resist.

Our government can help when the interests of public health and those of industry conflict. It did with tobacco. Government needs to do more to help Americans make choices that fight obesity.

But as America’s weight problem grows, our mass-promoted, junk food lifestyle is exploding overseas. The World Health Organization considers this an emerging global health crisis, and has developed a plan to help nations cope with trends that have produced 1 billion overweight people worldwide.

Astonishingly, the U.S. government is fighting against that plan, because it calls for restricting ads aimed at children and taxing unhealthy components of junk foods. Spokesmen for the president say the study should be rewritten to emphasize “personal responsibility.” Meanwhile we all pay the price of deteriorating public health.

Even with the Patriots in the Super Bowl, I’m skipping potato chips until I’ve shed my pounds. That’s my responsibility. But I know that governments and corporations have responsibilities, too. Industries that market products to the vulnerable ought to accept sensible limits – and governments ought to enforce them.

This is Nils Daulaire.

Doctor Nils Daulaire is president of the Global Health Council, headquartered in White River Junction. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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