What's your reason for getting fit and dropping a few pounds? Like Ashton Kutcher, are you worried about a "massive world-crushing event" where only the fittest survive? Or are your concerns more immediate, such as an oversized number on the scale and a thinning wallet?
Nearly 75 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese by 2019. That's the projection of economists in a report, "Obesity and the Economics of Prevention: Fit Not Fat," issued by the Paris-based 33-member Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The condition will, they argue, drag down the economy and impoverish us.
Although the prediction seems dire, it's not set in stone. The New Year gives us yet another chance to get it right -- to lose weight and get fit. Here are the latest trends, research and products to help you decide how to eat and exercise to achieve your fitness goals in 2011.
- Childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years. About one out of every three children or teens is overweight or at risk of being overweight. Because children's bodies are still developing, the damage to organs triggers medical problems extending throughout their lifetimes. A sense of urgency has led medical professionals, families, schools, legislators and leaders to intervene. Leading the charge is First Lady Obama whose Task Force on Childhood Obesity issued a report "Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation."
- Gaining weight is no longer viewed as an inevitable consequence of aging, but rather as a predictable byproduct of a sedentary lifestyle. Fitness centers are experiencing an explosive growth in boomer memberships, and seniors-only fitness clubs are popping up across the country. In addition, participation in competitive events for seniors continues to expand.
- Functional fitness, defined as the strength, flexibility and endurance needed to perform day to day tasks safely and easily, is growing in popularity, particularly as a bubble of boomers approach middle age.
- Piloxing, an unlikely combination of pilates and boxing, offers a workout for those seeking maximum intensity in their workouts.
- Wearing weighted vests turns a simple walk into a strength training workout. The weight-bearing exercise aerobic heart benefits increased bone health, which is of particular benefit to women at risk for osteoporosis.
Technology And Innovation:
- Exergaming, once the exclusive province of youth, has moved mainstream. Seniors surprised Nintendo by their adoption of the Wii Fit games, and rehabilitation specialists are using Wii Fit and other exergames to help patients recover from injuries. The Kinect Fitness Games, played on the Xbox 360, have something for everyone: personal training, hundreds of activities, statistics and community challenges.
- Fitbit, one example of a growing number of inexpensive fitness trackers, records information on health, wellness and exercise activity. The trackers, used by individual consumers and groups of employees as part of corporate wellness programs, sustain motivation by providing feedback.
- The new health care bill requires fast food chains and restaurants with over 20 units to display the nutritional and caloric information of menu items. When purchasing meals, consumers will find it easier to make informed choices.
- In a remarkable shift of focus, companies have increased their adoption of upstream wellness programs, according to Frank Napolitano, CEO of Globalfit. The uptick was set in motion by the new health care bill. Unlike traditional downstream programs that address potentially disabling conditions, such as obesity, upstream programs focus on prevention.
- A recall of contaminated eggs combined with a continuing concern about chemicals, additives and antibiotics appearing in the food chain has triggered a push for legislation to improve food safety in 2011.
- Since weight has moved from a private to public matter, activists on both sides of the issue are heating up the debate. Fatties United argue for the right to choose lifestyles without constraint or discrimination, while others point out the direct and indirect costs of providing medical care to obese individuals.
- Nearly a dozen successful lawsuits against public entities and private companies have moved the debate on how to reverse obesity from the food court to the courtroom. For example, in response to a lawsuit, the New York City School Board banned sugary soft drinks and most fattening foods from classrooms. And Kellogg Company agreed to adopt nutrition standards for foods it advertises to children in response to a lawsuit launched by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and two parents.
Food and Diet
- Contrary to the earlier view that a calorie was a calorie whether it came from fat, protein or a carbohydrate source, not all calories are created equal. Research demonstrates that calories from sugar tend to be stored as fat while protein calories are burned.
- Consumption of local produce (purchased at farmer's markets or grown at home) is rising along with the demand for organic and natural food.
- An estimated 30 to 40 percent of meat-eaters are occasionally opting for vegetarian meals. Called flexitarians, these individuals value the health benefits of vegetarian eating.
- Students are participating in Meatless Monday campaigns at several universities and school districts (for example, Oakland, California and Baltimore, Maryland). Vegan meals have also been introduced within several branches of the military.
- Contradicting the notion that healthy food is more expensive, researchers found that purchasing nuts, whole grains, soy and beans while reducing the purchase of high-fat dairy products and red and processed meats lowered food costs and improved dietary health.
- The health of both parents impacts offspring. Researchers had previously documented the impact of a mother's health (and weight) on offspring, but they were surprised to find that male rats who ate a high-fat diet produced offspring with glucose intolerance, a precursor to diabetes.
- Is food addictive? Rats fed junk food developed compulsive eating behavior and stopped exercising. Obesity quickly followed. Despite the controversial implications, some researchers are answering affirmatively.
- Skipping breakfast increases the risk of a potentially fatal heart attack, according to a study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Sitting for long stretches (more than six hours) increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, according to Marc Hamilton, a physiologist at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Clearly, the landscape of fitness is changing rapidly. As in our exercise routine, flexibility is essential in mapping a personal plan of action to achieve optimum well being.