Move more, eat smarter is key to obesity battle

Move more and eat smarter – that was the message on fighting obesity from a top US weight management expert, Professor Jim Hill, who spoke at an FGC event in Wellington.

Dr Jim Hill, a professor at the University of Colorado, has impeccable credentials. He has focused on weight management as his life’s work (with more than 500 scientific articles published) and has been at the forefront of obesity discussions for more than 20 years.

FGC Chief Executive Katherine Rich recently wrote about Dr Hill’s address in FMCG Business magazine. That article appears here:

Move more, eat smarter

No one debates that obesity is an issue in New Zealand. The statistics speak for themselves, and food producers are just as concerned as others. The issue is what can practically be done?

During my time as Chief Executive of the Food & Grocery Council I have attended many seminars and meetings to listen to leaders’ and academics’ opinions on solutions, which almost without exception focus solely on food. Physical activity seldom gets a mention, and then only in passing. This is strange when it’s such a major part of an energy balance equation.

I wonder whether some think taking aim at the food industry is less likely to attract a public backlash than criticising sedentary lifestyles – it’s so much easier to call for taxes on fat and sugar than to call for people to get more exercise.

It was of great interest that New Zealand hosted an academic in December who was a breath of fresh air with regard to his views. Dr Jim Hill, Professor of Paediatrics and Medicine at the University of Colorado, spoke in Wellington as a guest of FGC and the Juice and Beverage Association.

Dr Hill had come to New Zealand to attend a symposium, ‘Energy Balance: Which is more important – diet or physical activity?’ at Massey University, Auckland. He has impeccable credentials. He has focused on weight management as his life’s work (more than 500 scientific articles published) and has been at the forefront of obesity discussions for more than 20 years. He was Chair of the first World Health Organisation Consultation on Obesity in 1997 and is a Past President of the American Society for Nutrition and The Obesity Society. As a former member of the Expert Panel on Obesity of the National Institutes of Health he was part of the group that developed the first US guidelines for the treatment and prevention of obesity.

What was refreshing was that he spoke about obesity in a matter-of -fact manner devoid of finger pointing or food politics. He emphasised the importance of diet and physical activity in the prevention of obesity, stating that the key to success is about managing energy intake with energy output. He said that even the smallest of changes in diet and physical activity can have an impact on body weight and the maintenance of a healthy weight.

His advice was to “move more and eat smarter” and to teach energy balance. He also made the point that “if a population is sedentary, obesity is inevitable”, so that policies to get New Zealanders moving more had to be part of dealing with weight management, regardless of whether a person was overweight or not. He was positive that by making even small changes to increase movement (taking stairs, parking further away from the office, getting off the bus a stop earlier) made a difference to health and weight over time. “The single thing everybody can do is walk more.”

Of course, even more strenuous exercise regularly is even better, but the key point Dr Hill was making was that anyone can make a lifestyle change to improve their health.

He also spoke about changing food intake, and how small changes and eating smarter (eating more vegetables, taking on fewer calories, choosing a low-cal soda vs full sugar) also helped maintain weight over time.

His main message was that through knowledge about energy balance people can be empowered to make choices that contribute to a healthier life, and that initiatives need to be engaging and fun. Business could do the same through simple ideas such as changing the default settings for beverages to low calorie options, and that both Starbucks and Disneyland venues had had significant success with such strategies and that sales had not been negatively affected.