Bulging At The Seams
by Carol L. Spence
Let's not beat around the bush. Kentucky is bustin' out of its britches. Only four other states are heavier than we are. Nearly two-thirds of our population is carrying excess weight that increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.
According to some recent medical research, an overweight 50-year-old has a 20 to 40 percent greater chance of dying in the next 10 years than one of normal weight. And if that 50- year-old is obese, he or she has two or three times the risk of dying.
Dying! If that doesn’t make us turn away from the vending machine, what will?
If it were only that easy, we'd all be trim and fit and happy as kitties on catnip. Unfortunately, the solution to the problem isn't simple. That's why Ann Vail, director of the College's School of Human Environmental Sciences (HES), marshaled the forces of HES and Cooperative Extension's Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) under the umbrella of the Healthy Weight Task Force.
"It's important for people to understand that there's not an easy solution to the problem, nor is there just one solution," she said. "If it were a matter of just eating right, it would be simple, but everything else wraps into it."
What exactly does wrap into it?
Cheap, convenient food?
Modern conveniences that
take the “work” out of work?
Businesses that demand more output and
longer hours from their employees?
How exactly did this rampant obesity arise?
And how, with our overscheduled, overworked lives,
do we not succumb to a fast food lifestyle?
THE MISSION of the task force, under the leadership of Janet Kurzynske, chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Science, and Janet Tietyen, an associate extension professor in the same department, is to take a more integrated approach to healthy weight through leadership in the areas of instruction, research, and outreach.
"One of the things that we know, based on the evidence and the research, is that just telling people to get more active or just telling people that they should eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day is not a particularly effective intervention," Tietyen said.
The task force members work under the assumption that individuals do not live in isolation. They are affected by families, friends, organizations, schools, community environments, and policies—what is called an "ecological model." To make an impact on people's weight, health, and well-being, all parts of this model need to be addressed.
MAKES IT HARD
Tietyen understands the conflicts people face when they're fighting to maintain a healthy weight. "You've got everyone telling you, 'This is what you should weigh. Now, here's some food.'"
Those conflicting messages pummel individuals from all quarters, and until something is done at a policy and community level, she holds out little hope that current trends will be reversed. "It's hard when society is not supporting your efforts," she said.
Take for example the issue of vending machines in the schools. While it might seem like a sound idea to pull the plug on those machines and return schools to their junk foodfree environment of the 1960s, it's not that easy. Those machines bring the schools much-needed revenue.
Kurzynske said that to be able to make the seemingly easy change to vending machines containing healthy foods, there has to be some data that convinces school principals they can still make money that way.
"And that stems from a policy of what the funding sources are in the school," she said. "Why we are not supplying enough money for the schools … without having to depend on revenue from vending machines."
Public policy and community involvement also touch on land use management. Bike lanes and shopping and residential areas that encourage walking can all tie into the larger picture of weight management.
"It's a complex issue, and I think that's the type of thing that we are trying to learn," Tietyen said. "When you change one thing, you forget how many other things you change in the process."
"That's why it's going to take a long time to undo this. And we are not going back to where we were," said Kurzynske, referring to a time when life was slower paced.
Renee Knies is "the tree." Perfectly balanced, right foot pressed against her left knee, arms stretched high, she looks as if she’s practiced yoga all her life. While others around her wobble and giggle, her face is set. She takes this very seriously. The reason? Once she was 40 pounds overweight, and she never wants to return to those days.
In Lincoln County, a
Weight–The Reality Series class includes yoga for fitness.
"After I lost the weight, I felt so much better. I had so much energy!" she said. When she speaks, she somehow makes it possible to believe that everyone can accomplish what she has.
Knies lost those pounds about three years ago. She's returned to class to trim off an extra 10 that crept back recently. After only five weeks of work, she's already reached her goal. She gives much of the credit to Weight—the Reality Series, an extension program offered in Lincoln County.
Weight—the Reality Series and Get Moving, Kentucky! are the two major weight management programs of Cooperative Extension. The programs tackle two of the biggest culprits when it comes to weight gain—poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyle.
Weight—the Reality Series is currently being offered in more than 100 counties and Get Moving, Kentucky! in at least 85 counties. In many communities, collaboration with local organizations strengthens the programs. For example, Rita Stewart, Lincoln County FCS agent, has developed a partnership with the Lincoln County Health Department. The classes are held in a church-run activity center. In Scott County, FCS Agent Connie Minch has arranged for her Get Moving, Kentucky! participants to use the Pavilion, a city- and county-run exercise facility. The goal of both programs is to affect lifestyle decisions over the long term.
"What we're hoping will happen is that they have those positive lifestyle changes in place, and it actually will become habit and
will continue on after the program ends," said Lincoln County's Stewart.
A Weight–The Reality Series class in Washington County.
AT EVERY SIZE
Miller-Spillman is a professor in the department of Merchandising, Apparel, and Textiles. Much of her research tends to focus on the social and psychological aspects of dress. She and Tietyen credit the task force with bringing together their separate disciplines. Their joint work has produced a new version of Weight—the Reality Series called Beyond the Basics. It adds the component of body image to the curriculum.
With data collected from course participants, Miller-Spillman will conduct research on the role body image plays in maintaining a healthy weight. Tietyen will also be using weight loss data from Weight—the Reality Series for her own research.
Weighing down in
LASTS A LIFETIME
The Healthy Weight Task Force is aware that the classroom is an important front in the battle against this growing epidemic. In MAT 247, Dress and Culture, a course taught by Miller- Spillman, students study cultural frameworks for body image and how the proliferation of Western culture is changing those frameworks. In a seminar entitled Food, Society, and a Healthy Weight, taught by Kurzynske and Tietyen, incoming UK freshmen examined how society and the environment impact not only obesity, but also world hunger.
The very nature of modern life, with its hectic pace, processed food, and easy transportation, has shattered the picture of a healthy society into myriad pieces. Through the work of the Healthy Weight Task Force at the University of Kentucky, those pieces are being re-assembled into a picture of a healthy Kentucky.
"We're there to get people talking, interested, building linkages," Janet Kurzynske said.
"It has certainly raised awareness among everyone about how healthy weight is a multifaceted issue and that probably everybody has something to contribute."