April 20, 2000 -- We used to call them couch potatoes. Now many of them are out there, trying to walk off the weight -- but frustrated that it's not working. Turns out, most are not exercisingoften enough to melt the pounds.
A new survey from the CDC shows that over half of adults over age 18 are either overweight or downright obese. Two-thirds of them are trying to lose weight through physical activity -- especially walking -- but only one in five is actually exercising enough to lose weight.
The study is based on randomly conducted telephone surveys -- taken in 1998 -- of nearly 150,000 adults in all 50 states as well as in the District of Columbia.
"Although most persons exercised for about 30 minutes per session, only a minority exercised at least five times a week," Mary Ellen Simpson, PhD, RN, epidemiologist in the CDC's Nutrition and Physical Activity/Chronic Disease Center, tells WebMD.
To lose weight, the CDC recommends 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.
Take it seriously, says Simpson. "Obesity is not simply a cosmetic disorder. It's a public health concern. It puts you at risk for [heart disease and stroke], diabetes, cancer, many chronic diseases."
And while regular exercise is "no magic bullet, it boosts energy level, and can help you lose weight when it's coupled with a reduced-calorie diet," she adds. "We're really trying to advocate [a balanced diet] that's primarily fruits and vegetables and limited in fats and sweets. That's the safest and best way to lose weight ... We don't want people to get the false impression that liquid or fad diets are OK."
Even people who have been inactive for some time can work their way up to the CDC's goals, says Simpson. "They can initiate a program of starting slowly and building up in intensity to 30 minutes of moderate activity." Some examples are brisk walking, gardening, raking leaves, bicycling, pushing a stroller, and swimming laps. "We want people to be safe, to increase as they can. The real key here is regular physical activity."
All the little stuff adds up, Simpson adds. "We know benefits can [accumulate]. Taking the stairs at work, parking a distance from your office building, playing with the kids on the weekend ... people can work many kinds of physical activity into their days."
It's not always easy, she acknowledges. "Many communities don't have sidewalks ... people take the car for trips that are less than a mile away when they could walk or bicycle instead."
To help the public, Simpson reports the CDC is launching a nationwide set of worksite and community-based programs to promote physical activity. The Kids Walk to School program promotes walking and biking to school. The CDC is also working with the National Park Service to develop parks, trails, and greenways.
"Regular physical exercise is the key factor in successful long-term weight maintenance," Simpson tells WebMD. "It's the safest and best way to lose weight."
The CDC's findings are no surprise, Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, assistant professor of nutrition at Georgia State University, tells WebMD. "People are recognizing that exercise is a component [of weight loss], but we're still finding too many barriers in our way to do that. ... I'm on the eighth floor and usually walk the stairs twice a day, but it's gloomy, it's hidden. At one of the CDC's buildings, they actually carpeted a stairwell, decorated it, to encourage people to take the stairs."
She adds: "Research shows that even basic activities of living are eroding because we have such a technological society. ... All these labor-saving devices are horrible for us health-wise. People need to examine their days, think about all the things they do," says Rosenbloom.
Remember, too, you are what you eat, says Rosenbloom, who is a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Exercise helps, but you can easily undo the benefits with a few bites of your favorite fast food."
- The CDC reports more than half of Americans older than 18 are either overweight or obese. Two-thirds of them are trying to lose weight, but only a small number get enough exercise to make a difference.
- To lose weight, the CDC recommends that people exercise just about every day for at least 30 minutes. A healthy diet also is important.
- CDC officials emphasize being physically active on a regular basis, and even walking or doing yard work is good for starters. Observers note many don't have easy access to facilities that help them exercise, but even such things as walking longer distances through parking lots and using stairs each day can help.