If you have news to share, comments or suggestions about Findings, we want to hear from you. Send us your news by clicking here.
Obesity Researchers Want Your Workday to Be Your Workout
Published December 2004
Although the nation's obesity epidemic is becoming a costly public
health crisis, most Americans can't make it to a gym for a regular
But thanks to a study being conducted by scientists at the UC College of Nursing, the workout one day might come to us.
Donna Gates, EdD, a nurse researcher who specializes in community
health issues, and Bonnie Brehm, PhD, a dietitian, are working with
local industries, health department officials and civic leaders to
determine how regular exercise and healthy living can become part of
everyone's daily routine.
Funded by a $657,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC), the study represents a new tactic in our apparently
losing battle to reduce our bottom line.
This study differs from earlier efforts to address obesity, Dr. Gates
explains. Instead of focusing on individual lifestyles, she and Dr.
Brehm will take a broader, "institutional" approach, which can
potentially reach more people at less cost than strategies targeting
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 66 percent of the nearly
15 million Americans employed in manufacturing in 2003 were overweight
So since workout classes, personal trainers and com-mercial weight-loss
programs don't cut it, UC will work with an obesity-prone
population--300 randomly selected workers in small Northern Kentucky
factories--and try to improve an entire environment.
The study will also examine whether incorporating exercise and
healthier eating habits into workaday life will reduce the expensive
health risks of obesity, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as
well as cutting productivity costs incurred by absences and physical
Current concern about obesity isn't just another wave of hype for
weight-loss wonder drugs or a basement full of pricey abs-enhancing
According to the director of the CDC, Julie Gerberding, MD, obesity is bad news, big time.
"If you looked at any epidemic--whether it's influenza or plague from
the Middle Ages--they are not as serious as the epidemic of obesity in
terms of the health impact on our country and our society," she told a
group of University of Georgia alums recently.
This new plague costs the country plenty.
A report by the disease-prevention advocacy group Trust for America's
Health now says nearly 119 million American adults, 65 percent of us,
and one in seven children are either overweight or obese.
According to the report, that costs the country more than $117 billion
a year. In 2003 Medicare and Medicaid covered more than half these
costs, some 6 percent of the Department of Health and Human Services
Should trends continue, the Trust for America's Health warns, obesity
will soon overtake tobacco as America's leading health problem and
Drs. Gates and Brehm hope that one day Americans won't have to go it
alone in Spandex. They envision an everyday environment in which the
very act of going to work or school or just getting across town
provides the exercise we need to stay healthy.
The way these researchers see it, exercise should be part of everyday
life. Your job, your school and your community would be your gym.
Simply going about your business would be your incentive to use it.
Stressing that "We're not presuming we know more than the employees,"
the researchers will start with focus groups, motivational posters,
healthy vending-machine snacks that are cheaper than the junk, better
food at company meetings, clearly marked walking paths inside or
outside the plants, and an educational Web site.
The scope of this initial study will be modest--bringing about life-
and cost-saving changes in knowledge, attitudes and behavior.
"Remember we're dealing with small manufacturers," says Dr. Gates. "The
motivation is there, but many are operating on a shoe string. If we
offer things like trainers and equipment, they won't be able to sustain
that after we leave.
"But if what we do succeeds, there won't be a huge cost to it. And
we'll work with the local health department to keep it going."
The ultimate obesity-free environment that Drs. Gates and Brehm
envision probably won't extend to putting every fast-food restaurant up
10 flights of stairs or every ice cream parlor at the top of a down
However, says Dr. Gates, business architects could position parking
lots a heart-pumping hike from the office. City planners could design
attractive, unobstructed city sidewalks, possibly with pedestrian
overpasses instead of crossings, that encourage leaving the car at
home. Even stairwells could be made aesthetically attractive to
encourage walking upstairs rather than riding the elevator. And schools
could include physical education in the curriculum from kindergarten
through grade 12.
Colorado is our "thinnest" state, Dr. Brehm points out, probably
because its mountains and good weather encourage Coloradans to be more
active outdoors than most Americans.
The state also sponsors annual bike rides and walking programs, she
says. Every Colorado city has bike paths, and free maps and clear
signage make them easy to use. And almost all transit systems have
bicycle carriers on every bus.
"These are a few ways that changes in living and working environment can lead to positive lifestyle habits," says Dr. Brehm.
But we don't have to move mountains to reduce obesity in the rest of the country, these two researchers believe.
"If people would just start walking a bit," Dr. Gates insists, "that would have an amazing effect."