THE ROLE OF FRIENDS AND FAMILY
C an your family and funded by the National Insti- tute on Aging suggests that the answer may well be “yes.” Researchers from Harvard and from the University of California-San Diego analyzed data from the Framingham Heart Study to examine pos- sible correlations between obesity and social networks. friends make you fat? A 2007 research study
Their findings indicated strong connections: Participants’ chances of becoming obese increased by 57 percent if they had a close friend who became obese. If that close friend was the same sex, the chance increased by 71 percent. Among siblings, one’s becom- ing obese increased the other’s chances by 40 percent.
In married couples, one spouse’s becoming obese increased the other’s likelihood of doing so by 37 percent. The influence was not tied to geographic proximity but to the closeness of the relationship. Mary McElligott, diabetes program coordinator at the von Arx Diabetes Center of Excel- lence and Nutritional Health, is not surprised by the find-
ings but wonders if adopting healthy behaviors could also be easily spread. “If I hang out with overweight people, there’s a good chance we’re all going to be overeat- ing,” she says. “But if one per- son in the group says, ‘Let’s go for a walk,’ maybe that would start to spread, too.”
According to a February 2010 article in The New York Times, the Food and Drug Administration is planning to revise food labels to make them more prominent and less misleading. The new labeling will be voluntary rather than mandatory—which, of course, may just heighten confusion. But one idea being considered would prevent companies from highlighting good things about their product (e.g. 0 trans fats) unless they comply with the new rules. Even so, there is still the issue of serving size. Standard serv- ing sizes were created by the FDA in the early 1990s, based on surveys of Americans’ eating habits taken during the previ- ous two decades. But since people routinely underestimate how much they eat, many nutritionists question the validity of the serving sizes currently used. After all, who eats only a small handful of chips? “At this point in time, educating the American public to better understand food labels should be our primary goal,” McEl- ligott says. “Our job, as consumers should be to try to pick the best foods for us. We’re not at a point where people are competing to provide healthy foods. That would be my ideal.” Reclaiming control So how do we avoid consuming more calories than we want— or need? Obviously, maintaining awareness of what and how much we’re eating is a good place to start. Learning ZoneXpress recommends learning to easily and readily recognize a healthy portion. A 3-ounce serving of meat, for example, is about the size of a deck of playing cards. A teaspoon of oil has the same diameter as a quarter. A bagel or roll should not be larger than a 6-ounce can of tuna. A medium-sized fresh fruit is the size of a tennis ball, and a cup of vegetables is about the size of a light bulb. Keeping those images in mind when cooking or dining out can help you limit the amount you eat.
Controlling our exposure to food is also important. The CDC report noted that people frequently blame their own lack of willpower for not being able to maintain a healthy diet when it is more likely that our automatic responses to ubiquitous cues to eat and the availability of cheap, convenient, calorie-dense foods are responsible.”
“Most of the time, we eat because we have this idea of value—‘I have to eat it, I paid for it.’”
McElligott agrees with that assessment. “I think visibility plays a huge role,” she says. “We are surrounded by food cues all day. Television is particularly problematic. I think people lose the ability to down-regulate calories because they are sur- rounded by food all the time.” She recommends keeping food put away at home and only bringing it out at set times. At work, even putting candy in an opaque container rather than a clear one can mute the call of mindless nibbling. Even better, leave the food in the lunch room. McElligott would also like to see us redefine our relationship with food, moving from easy, empty calories to foods that pro- vide both good nutrition and a sense of satiety. “Be sure you’re getting the fruit and vegetables you need before you indulge in fast food,” she advises. Above all, watch those portions. If you do, you might soon be seeing a slimmer new you.
Naples Health | JULY-SEPTEMBER 2010
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