Today, I am not going to try to scare you with details about radiation or noise pollution or other environmental factors endangering your health. Instead I am going to talk about a major health factor that is almost directly under our control: our weight. Bigger waistlines DIRECTLY translate into increased probability of disability and drive up health insurance costs across the board.

Now I like to eat. I run marathons so that I can eat more with a semi-clear conscious (rationalization: if I run ten miles in a day I am allowed to eat or drink anything I want that day), and I certainly enjoy a Guinness or three. But I do not eat nor drink like I did at 23 when I was single, had no kids, and worked out 120+ minutes a day.

Let’s first focus on the average size of an American. According to the CDC, the average American male adult is roughly 18% heavier than their peers from 50 years ago. The average female has added about 20% to their mass, while both groups have added only about an inch in height. So we are slightly taller but much heavier than we were two generations ago, something that doesn’t surprise anyone who has seen “Supersize Me” or gone to a county fair. And our kids are reflecting this trend (too much TV, video games, and Happy Meals): the average 10 year old is 20% heavier than they used to be when Mom kicked them outside to actually play baseball with their friends.

Let’s just take a look at how this increase in mass affects individuals. Societal effects like Medicare and Medicaid and productivity decreases are just plain huge, almost too big to comprehend. So what does extra weight mean to you and your body?

  1. Extra weight creates additional stress on the body to carry it. It can cause back, knee, and hip problems via structural damage. One stat I’ve seen says 1lb of weight = 3lbs of stress on the knee, and twice that for the hip. So there is over an extra hundred pounds of stress on the average person’s joints today. No wonder hip and knee replacements are as common as political flip-flopping.
  2. Being 20% overweight “significantly” increases your risk of heart disease according to the CDC. Ironically, the average American is 20% or so overweight, meaning the ½ of Americans have significantly greater risk of heart problems than fifty years ago. Leading cause of death for females is heart disease, and it is right up there for guys.
  3. If you are overweight you are more likely to have sleep apnea, which has a plethora of not good side effects.
  4. Extra mass messes up your body chemistry in a myriad of ways, from hormone levels to blood sugar to triglycerides. So you have diabetes, and reduced immunity, and lower oxygen carrying capacity, and sexual dysfunction. None on the list of good things.

Now, do we just say “Fudge it!” and sit on the couch with a half gallon of ice cream and a spoon? Better not. There are little ways that you can slowly shed those extra pounds without going on The Biggest Loser or eating only rabbit food for the next three months.

  1. Park away from where you need to go. Parking 100 feet away from the door instead of right next to it will cause you to use up an extra five calories or so. Not big, but three times a day, every day is about a pound and a half for a year.
  2. Take the stairs. A few extra flights of stairs every day at the office can be a couple of pounds a year.
  3. Eat more veggies. They have low calorie density, so will fill you up a bit more without adding to the waistline. Americans don’t eat enough of these anyway. Can be a half a pound of fat loss a month without turning you into an herbivore.
  4. Change your milk. Instead of cream in your coffee use milk. Instead of whole milk use 2%. Making these small changes can be over 100 calories a day, or a pound a month.

These are very easy substitutions or additions that will not interfere with your hectic life. They are almost small enough to be unnoticeable. Yet the compounded effect is probably two pounds a month, enough to improve your mood and productivity. Or over a year a drastic reduction in the health effects that can and will disable you at some point.

We can not control the world around us for the most part. But we can control what comes out of our mouth, and what goes in it. And those can make a world of difference.