War on Fat

Sound the alarm! The war on fat has been declared!

(Other Articles: A kinder, Gentler Weigh and What's your Excuse?)

 In September, an article in USA Weekend, a Sunday newspaper insert, announced the latest U.S. crusade: Fat. Michael Fumento, author of Fat of the Land: The Obesity Epidemic and How Overweight Americans Can Help Themselves, raised the cry. In his article, which quotes heavily from former surgeon general C. Everett Koop, Fumento decries the lack of concern over the problem of obesity in the United States.

The Facts: Obesity kills! (and costs money)

According to Fumento, three out of four U.S. citizens weigh too much, and other sources say anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of North Americans are overweight. Indeed, according to a presentation at NutraCon '97 in Las Vegas, NV, a Baylor University study predicts that by the year 2030, 100 percent of U.S. citizens will be obese by current standards.

The price we pay in quality of life-both healthwise and financially-is staggering. Some 300,000 Americans die each year due to obesity. According to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, obesity also costs the country big bucks:

This is a total of approximately $60 billion dollars a year, and on par with smoking, which kills approximately 434,000 people a year and costs billions of dollars.

With this death rate and this kind of money, you would think that North Americans would be charging full speed ahead into the war zone. But they aren't. Why not?

Too many of us are overweight and just don't care! Taste and pleasure are numero uno, not health. According to the NPD Group, a research marketing firm, the percentage of homemakers who say taste is the most important food consideration is rising, while the percentage who say you should be cautious about serving fat is decreasing. Only about 1/4 of homemakers say they worry about calories.

There is also much more pressure on us to eat than to smoke. While only the tobacco industry encourages us to smoke, multiple industries encourage us to eat, and eat bad foods: the food industry, the fast-food industry, the soft drink industry-industries with tradition, advertising and public relations savvy, and big bucks.

Pivotal in changing the "pleasure first, health second" mindset is the role insurance companies take. If they become more aggressive in publicizing the link between obesity and ill health (and the cost), and install incentives and the means to lose weight and change lifestyle, things could change.

Is it a Possibility?

Yes, and things are changing. At the same time that North Americans are getting larger, there is more publicity on the dangers of obesity. The information is out there, it just isn't being processed well by the public.

Major insurers are beginning to provide incentives for those who modify their diet and lifestyle to prevent illnesses. Perhaps the most dramatic (although not related directly to weight loss) is the number of organizations paying for their insured to voluntarily participate in the Ornish Program. This program defines strict parameters regarding diet and exercise.

The largest U.S. health insurer, Mutual of Omaha, was the first to try the Ornish Program, and results showed dramatic improvement in patient health, as well as a dramatic increase in cost savings: Mutual saved five dollars for every one dollar spent on the Ornish Program.

Specific to factors involved in weight loss, the Ornish Program resulted in an increase in exercise from 1 1/2 hours per week to more than 3 1/2 hours per week and a decrease in fat as percent of total calories to less than 10 percent

Is this the trend? It is hard to say for sure, but there may be as many as 25 other insurers now using the Ornish Program.

Will insurers take the next step and require overweight people to do certain things? Will they, as William Shakespeare said, "Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war?" Where do you stand? What do you weigh?

The article "War on Fat" is reproduced with the permission of AIM International
© 1998, 1999 by AIM International.

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