Sep 182011
Authors: Joe Vajgrt

We’re very fortunate to live in a place as fit as Colorado. I’m sure many of you already know that the Fort Collins-Loveland area was named the fittest metropolitan area in the entire country last year, just barely beating out Boulder for the title. In fact, Colorado is the only state in the union with more than one city in the top ten, and we have four (Colorado Springs is fourth and Denver/Aurora is ninth).

Living in a state so physically fit, it’s easy to view the world through skinny goggles. While we may be insulated from the obesity epidemic taking root all across the western world, the reality is that it’s getting awfully fat out there, people.

I’m constantly reminded of this reality every time I go back home to Kansas, where the obesity rate is more than double what it is in Fort Collins. All one has to do is go to Wal-Mart at 3 a.m. to see what the rest of the country truly looks like. Just make sure to bring along a camera phone. “The People of Wal-Mart” is always in need of new submissions. Oh, the hu-manatee!

Sorry. That was mean. Having been obese myself at one time, I fully understand the misery and hopelessness that people can feel when they’re trying to lose weight. I also understand the profound level of denial and feelings of victimization so often associated with being significantly overweight.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone blame their weight problems on a supposed genetic predisposition. While there certainly are some cases where this is true, the vast majority of obesity is caused by environmental factors.

Think about it for a minute; from 1980 to 2000, the obesity rates in this country doubled. Did our genetics suddenly begin mutating en masse? Or could it possibly be more closely connected to the fact that, on average, Americans inhale 860 more calories than the world’s average person consumes in a day?

There are many other factors that contribute. Many of us spend our days commuting from the suburbs, only to arrive at an office where we sit in one place for the entire day. It used to be that exercise was a matter of survival. Now, we have to consciously make an effort to carve out enough time from our busy schedules just to move around a little bit.

Another issue is that portion sizes have grown exponentially over the last few decades. Twenty years ago, the average bagel contained 140 calories. Today, that number has grown to 350. Over that same span, an average cheeseburger has grown from 333 calories to nearly 600.

It should come as no surprise that Americans want a simple fix. Perhaps that’s why the diet industry rakes in more than $40 billion annually. Here’s the kicker, though – diets don’t work. At least according to a report by UCLA researchers that appeared in American Psychologist, the journal for the American Psychological Association.

“You can initially lose 5-10 percent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back,” said Traci Mann, lead author of the study and UCLA associate professor of psychology. “We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”

Yikes, that’s depressing. Maybe quotes like that are partially responsible for the fact that over the last decade, anti-depressant use in the U.S. has doubled. There’s a simple way to battle away the blues, though.

According to a report released earlier this year by Harvard Medical School, cardiovascular exercise “has a unique capacity to exhilarate and relax, to provide stimulation and calm, to counter depression and dissipate stress.” An earlier study conducted at Duke found that regular, vigorous exercise was equally effective at fighting depression as the leading anti-depressant medications.

If we were more willing to take personal responsibility concerning our health, we could solve so many of our healthcare problems. According to a report by ABC News, medical costs that are directly tied to obesity account for $147 billion annually, which is nearly 10 percent of all U.S. medical spending.

In a time of so much political discourse concerning the health care overhaul, the mind-boggling federal deficit and skyrocketing Medicare and Medicaid costs, why are we talking about trimming the fat from the budget, but not from our waistlines?

Joe Vajgrt is a senior journalism major who feels bad for calling people humanatees. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. He can be reached at

 Posted by at 3:33 pm

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