Thursday, September 16, 1999

What can we do about big, fat emergency?

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I have my fingers crossed again. I hate to get my hopes up, though. I've been disappointed too many times.

        Procter & Gamble and the University of Cincinnati are teaming up to find out what makes us fat. I am hoping they will discover that it is somebody else's fault. I'm hoping it has nothing to do with beer that is not lite and brisk walks that are discussed but not taken.

        Wouldn't it be nice if it has nothing to do with eating yourself into a stupor, nothing to do with whether you elect to eat food drenched in grease, nothing to do with chocolate or pastry consumption?

Mysterious cause
        It would really be — if you'll excuse the expression — icing on the cake if it has nothing to do with diet and exercise at all. What I'd like to find out is that this is something caused by a mysterious virus, which they will identify. Then, I'm hoping they will find a vaccine, which they will put in Esther Price chocolates.

        At least, that's what I'm hoping.

        Unfortunately, the researchers appear to be going into this with the wrong attitude. “It won't happen overnight,” said Randy Seeley, a UC professor of psychiatry who will work on the study. “This is something that will unfold over five or 10 years.”

        Cincinnati could blow up like a tick by then. Maybe sooner. Oktoberfest is this weekend, and I don't need to tell you what happens at Schmidt's Bahama Mama booth.

        In 1997, the National Weight Report (based on 20,000 adults) said we are the eighth-fattest city in America. More than 30 percent of us are considered obese. In another, completely unrelated report, 5,000 Reds fans told designers what they want in the new ballpark here.

        They want Skyline chili and Montgomery Inn barbecue and Graeter's ice cream. They don't want to have to walk too far from where they've parked their cars. They'd like cup holders on every seat. Oh, and wider seats. They want wider seats.

        It appears that we will need them.

Training for obesity
        We have an entire generation in training for obesity. A study by Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Institute found that kids between 7 and 13 get one-third of their vegetable consumption from a single source: potatoes. Not baked ones, either. Potato chips and french fries.

        Twenty years ago, children consumed twice as much milk as soda, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Today, the reverse is true. So what do we do about this? Well, of course, we put pop in school vending machines and sell the rights to plaster the name of cola companies all over the athletic fields.

        This week the American Obesity Association is holding a conference on “Obesity — Public Health Crisis” in Washington, D.C. I know they are completely serious about solving this national emergency because they have secured the services of Sarah, the Duchess of York, to address their group.

        Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher will lead a discussion on “Obesity: Bad Genes or Bad Behavior.” There will be an update on the “Costs of Obesity.” Not to mention the dangers. The New England Journal of Medicine reports that more than half of cardiovascular deaths and one-third of cancer deaths result from obesity. Each year, more than 300,000 deaths are attributable to excess weight.

        But we just keep eating those biggie fries.

        “Something slips in our regulatory system,” Stephen Woods, director of the University of Cincinnati Research Center, told The Cincinnati Enquirer's Tanya Albert. “We are trying to determine where that change occurs — in the brain, in the fat cells themselves, or in our digestive system?”

        Well, as I say, I have my fingers crossed that the folks at UC will come up with something easy and wonderful and quick. A pill would be nice. Until they do, perhaps we might consider the old-fashioned idea that we are fat because of what we eat and drink and do.

        And try to fix it ourselves.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at