Don’t Let Summer Vacation Sabotage Your Health
By Larry Lucas, Deputy Vice President
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
Summer is a season of celebrations. Graduations, family reunions and holidays like the 4th of July provide opportunities for catching up with friends and loved ones. For many, these special occasions also mean parties filled with lots of delicious, yet high-calorie, foods. But with the Centers for Disease Control reporting that 78 percent of all African American adults in California are overweight or obese, we need to learn how to celebrate without overindulging.
Being overweight isn’t just about vanity – it’s about staying alive. Obesity steals years, and in some cases whole decades, from your life. According to the National Institutes of Health, young African American men who are obese lose up to 20 years of life; and African American women, up to five years of life. When you think of it that way, it’s a lot easier to say no to hot dogs and yes to lean meats and fresh vegetables at the next cookout.
We are lucky to live in an age when innovative medicines are readily available to treat a whole host of diseases, including many that are linked to obesity, such as type 2 diabetes. But prescription medicines are not the solution to the obesity crisis – lifestyle changes are. In fact, being overweight can impact the effectiveness of your medicines. A recent study by Wake Forest University found that participants who were obese had higher blood pressure and blood sugar levels and more abnormal cholesterol profiles than did normal-weight participants, even though the former group took more medications for these conditions that are common heart disease risk factors.
While genetics play a part in determining your body type, there are also things we can control – like diet and exercise habits – that primarily contribute to obesity. To start reining in your diet and kicking up your exercise, it’s important to establish goals that are measurable, specific and attainable. For example, while it’s wonderful to say you’re going to eat healthier, a better goal would be to eat five servings of fruits or vegetables five days a week. This holds you to a clear standard, but is also flexible for your lifestyle.
For our children, summer vacation is a particularly important time to reinforce good eating and exercise habits. A study published by the American Journal of Public Health found that one measure of obesity rose more than twice as fast when kindergarten and first-grade students were on summer vacation than when they were in school. Don’t let these be the lazy days of summer. As an alternative to video games, try taking children to the park for fun and games. Also, give your kids water instead of soft drinks filled with sodium.
Managing your weight this summer isn’t about depriving yourself – go ahead and indulge in a small piece of cake at your daughter’s graduation party. What is important is to exercise more, and to incorporate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats into your diet. These changes won’t just help you look better – but you’ll feel better too.