With the United Nations about to get close to the whole obesity epidemic debate, the research offered up by the medical journal The Lancet last week might well have been expected to be all political. But it wasn’t.
There was an exception. In the research series released Friday at London’s Manson Lecture Theater, there was something for the individual’s very personal use.
It has nothing to do with whether or not half of all Americans are going to be obese by the year 2030 or how much per capita income leads to putting on too many pounds.
It is a personal “Body Weight Simulator” that “for general research use only” and “not intended to provide personal medical advice or a substitute for the advice of a physician or weight management facility” allows one to figure what it will take to lose a few pounds.
Developed by the Lab of Biological Modeling at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (NIDDK), the Human Weight Simulator comes with more bells and whistles than the ones you find in the local gym. Java is required to run it, but Lancet makes that program available, too.
You start by entering information on your height, weight and existing diet.
The program then asks you to set a weight goal and the number of days you want to take to achieve it. The Simulator then calculates the diet that will be needed, taking into account the amount of physical activity you plan to include.
If the change is not possible in the time period given, a warning goes off and you can change your calculations. You can experiment with changes in your diet and activity to see what the results will be by using the “Specify Lifestyle Change” tab.
Each time you make a change, new weight, percent body fat, and Body Mass Index (BMI) numbers are calculated. You can switch between using kilograms and pounds.
There is both a “Simulator Overview” for helping users get acquainted with it, and Kevin Hall at NIDDK, a unit of the National Institute of Health, is available to answers questions via email almost like a personal trainer.
All in all, it’s a very useful tool found in a series of reports that mostly got attention last week for the conclusion that “governments are the most important actors in reversing the obesity epidemic, because protection and promotion of public goods, including public health, is a core responsibility.”
The call for government intervention in what has been called a global obesity epidemic comes just ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting with the participation of heads of state and government on the issue of noncommunicable diseases.
Noncommunicable diseases include heart attacks, strokes, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory illnesses. Obesity is often a contributing factor.
The Lancet research said personal responsibility is important, but found government policies are necessary to provide people with healthier choices. It suggests taxing unhealthy foods and subsidizing healthy ones.
Treatment of preventable obesity-related diseases will cost American taxpayers $48 to $66 billion a year, according to the medical journal.
Next to government, the food and beverage industry could do the most to reverse the rising obesity rate, the Lancet series said. It calls for voluntary restrictions on marketing unhealthy fats and sugar to children.
It said obesity prevention should include everything from the voluntary programs like First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to taxing soft drinks and candy based on their sugar content.
The Lancet authors also recognize that new regulations and taxes will bring out opposition from private sector lobbyists, who they said “often undermine policies aimed at reducing obesity.”
The UN meeting is set for Sept. 19 and 20 in New York City. It will be only the second UN meeting at this level for an emerging health issue. The noncommunicable diseases account for 63 percent of the world’s annual deaths.
The UN has not identified obesity per se as one of its four risk factors, but gets close to it with “physical inactivity.” The others are tobacco use, poor diet and alcohol abuse.