Ah, yes…Happy New Year (even if we are already half way into this new month. My, how time flies)!!!
And with the New Year come new or repurposed resolutions, many of which are years old. Among those resolutions—you guessed it—are losing weight, getting (more) exercise, and trying to once again try to stay healthy.
This New Year brings with it a new twist on the old resolution gambit, and that is how health care reform may—read that “may”—impact your focus on losing those long neglected pounds by penalizing you if you don't succeed.
But maybe we should put aside the politics, and concentrate on innovative ways to “get into the game,” as is now happening in my hometown of Thomasville in southwest Georgia.
First, the thing about weight loss:
Every year we try to lose it, and every year we usually gain it back, maybe even with a few “bonus” pounds. I’m not going to go into that discussion again, having done it many times in the past.
However, I will say that I am just like a lot of you. Every year I make the pledge, usually get off to a good start, and inevitably falter. This past year has been no different, and as I have mentioned in prior blogs, my travel schedule doesn’t help matters.
That will not deter me from trying again, and hoping that maybe this year will be the year. So far, so good, with 6 pounds gone this past week and my resolve intact. Come back in another couple of weeks and maybe I will tell you about my further hoped-for success.
The sad part of this story is that I gained much of this weight over two or three months prior to the holidays, only to pump it up another couple of pounds during Christmas and New Years, in no small part due to my wife’s excellent cooking (and maybe a bit of my own barbecue). It was no mean feat to gain all of those pounds, and I promise you I feel it. (I call this phenomenon the “Groundhog diet,” after the Bill Murray film where he keeps reliving the same Groundhog Day, over and over and over again.)
Now I am back on the wagon, doing what I need to do. We will see what happens. Only time will tell.
However, there is some help here in my hometown. And I think it is actually an interesting story, one that could possibly be duplicated in your community as well.
The program/concept is called “Team Lean”, and it is a community-wide weight loss program now just getting started for the third year here in Thomasville, Georgia.
Sponsored by the local YMCA, Archbold Hospital and Flowers Foods among others, Team Lean reaches out to over 18,000 people in the Thomasville community. Last year, over 1400 people participated, which to me is an astounding commitment.
The plan is fairly simple: form a team of four or five people, pay $50 a member for the ten week “competition”, and see which team loses the most weight. Weigh-ins are done weekly, and the results are published in the local newspaper. There are a large number of exercise classes for all ranges of fitness, held at the local Y as well as other training programs in the city. Even the restaurants get into the game, advertising and promoting their “healthy choices” menus.
This really is a community-based effort. The concept started at another YMCA in the area, and has been taken up here in Thomasville with enthusiasm. I have to admit that I am impressed with the way the program is run, including the booklets, graphics and T-shirts that are all part of the program. And when Team Lean starts, it truly becomes the talk of the town.
I especially like the fact that my wife has joined, because as you may have found out as well, losing weight on your own is a tough road to hoe. Having company and companionship on the journey makes it just a bit easier.
I also appreciate the fact that when my wife gets on her team and commits to her diet and exercise program, those same cooking skills that helped me gain the weight are terrific at helping me lose the weight as she changes from the “Southern cooking load ‘em up with fat, butter and salt cookbooks” to the “get-lean/healthy eating” varieties. (By the way, her team is called “Five Flabby Fannies.” Go figure…)
At the end of this ten week journey, there are cash awards given to the most successful teams. In fact, since Team Lean started in 2008, over 30,000 pounds have been lost, and almost $100,000 in cash prizes have been paid out.
So that is how one town deep in the Southern farm belt is dealing with obesity on the community level.
Which brings me to the question of why all of this is so important politically in this era of health care reform.
That’s because there is a movement afoot to charge you more for your health insurance if you happen to be one of the unfortunate millions in this country who are overweight and obese.
Last week, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Heart Association joined over 100 other organizations to express their concern about language in the Senate-passed bill health reform bill that would allow employers to charge employees thousands of dollars more in health insurance premiums (up to 30% or even 50% of a plan’s premium) if you don’t meet your employer’s pre-set “health targets.”
The practical implication would be that your employer could require you to lose weight or pay up. If they were “nice,” that might mean 5 or 10 pounds. But it could also mean getting into lean, mean fighting shape—which is unrealistic for almost all of us including yours truly.
Incentives such as workplace wellness programs would be OK according to the organizations that signed on to the letter. But tying behaviors to health insurance premiums should not part of a reform program.
The sad reality is that losing weight—as an example—is hard to do. There are few strategies that are successful in the long term. Yes, there are those beautiful people on TV shows who work hard every day (all day in fact) at losing weight, and keep it off for long periods of time. But that is not the medical reality that we physicians are familiar with.
Like Jessica Rabbit said in the movie, “I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way.” Weight loss has a lot to do with genes and environment. Choice plays a role, but it is not choice alone that dictates our body types. And if you live in a community where it is dangerous to go outside to take a walk, or where there are no grocery stores that offer attractive, affordable fresh meats and vegetables, you are just plain out of luck.
And now, with the Senate-passed bill in hand, you may not just be out of luck, you may be out of cash—and lots of it.
The short version: incentives, yes; punishment, no. That’s the position of the American Cancer Society and many other respected health-related/focused organizations.
So that is where I am starting my New Year: trying once again to pursue the elusive goal of getting at least close to a medically-desirable weight along with my dear wife and partner.
To help us along, we have a strong community program which provides the support and the social environment to make it happen (even our friends who had us over for dinner last night substituted skinless chicken breasts for ground hamburger in their delicious chili).
We want to be successful, but we want to do it on our terms. Speaking as someone who has tried to “get it right” when it comes to diet and exercise, I know from personal experience how hard it is to do.
Being penalized as part of a government program for trying and failing to get there just doesn’t make sense, when there are so many other proven ways to get to where we want to go.
We need to build on success--not punishment--when it comes to improving the public’s health.