Women, Weight control and Disease

Article by Dr. Paul Kennedy
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It’s not easy starting out the New Year with an article concerning a disease such as cancer. Indeed, the real purpose of this article is not necessarily to show the link between keeping one’s weight under control and the prevention of this challenging (and possibly deadly) disease but the fact that so few women understand or refuse to accept the link between the two. Of course, this disease causality factor (being overweight and/or obese) for men is similar but a study completed over a year ago and appearing in the medical journal “Obstetrics and Gynecology” in the fall of 2008 showed that the message concerning weight management and disease is not getting through – at least not to the degree that it should. Here are some of the facts.

The study referenced above included over 1,500 women in the US that were asked to complete a survey concerning their knowledge of the relationship between being overweight or obese and their potential rate of cancer. The survey focused on endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterine lining) but also included questions and information concerning breast and colon cancer. The shocking results showed that nearly HALF of the women surveyed were not aware that being overweight or obese actually increased their odds of becoming a victim of these diseases. For example, being overweight increases the odds of endometrial cancer fourfold and being obese increases the odds by

six-fold. Almost 60% of the women surveyed didn’t know that! The survey results for the other two types of cancer were a little (but not much) better with about half knowing that being obese increased colon cancer and breast cancer risk. That means, of course, that about half didn’t have a clue concerning body weight control and disease prevention. Apparently, they felt that maybe they could just take a pill if things got really bad.

The point is that the message is just not getting out -or sinking in- that weight control is a major factor in staying healthy. It also became apparent from the survey that women were not getting this information from their doctors since, as it turns out, 45% of the women involved in the study were OBESE themselves! Are you kidding me? It has been my experience that many doctors still treat symptoms and not causes and this survey appears to be a verification of that phenomenon. Indeed, many doctors have told me that they are unsure what to tell their patients that are in need of regular exercise and body weight reduction other than starting a walking program. Sadly, in their defense, few insurance programs include professionally supervised exercise and weight management programs as a means of PREVENTATIVE care and/or follow-up care and many doctors simply tell their patients to “cut calories” or “start a walking program”. It is clear, though, that this is simply not enough information or direction for overweight or obese patients. It is at this point, however, that physicians must take the role of educators in getting their patients to understand (accept?) that a large part of the burden in weight management as a means of disease prevention belongs to THEM–the patient. Why?

Less that four per cent of obesity is related to genetic factors that cannot be overcome or controlled by proper eating habits and regular exercise. But in a culture of TV, video games and a non-participatory sports culture (in other words, we watch but don’t take part), we allow the pounds to pack themselves on until we think that the answer is to take a pill, go on a “crash diet” or (as the survey showed) simply ignore that problem. It IS true that doctors and health care professionals must do a better job in identifying weight related health issues and, more importantly, giving their patients the motivation and information they need to improve their health and fitness profile to prevent chronic diseases. But the real onus is on the patient to wake up and realize that endlessly sitting on the couch while eating fatty, salty snacks washed down with sugary sodas is a ticket to the obesity epidemic. That’s a survey question that everybody seems to get right but continues to ignore.

I’m Dr. Paul Kennedy and that’s the “Be Fit, Stay Fit” Topic of the Month for July 2009. Good luck with YOUR program. I KNOW you can do it!

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