Sunday, September 5, 2010

Obesity and Income (part 2): poverty = obesity. Enter Lose for Good 3.0

Part 1 of the two part series on obesity and income looked at the interesting, but comparatively trivial example of how the affluent stay thin and make themselves stay thin.  As was pointed out in some of the comments, the well-to-do have access to every tool and resource to achieve a healthy lifestyle.  This is not to minimize their weight challenges, but they arguably have many more advantages than most of the population in living a healthy life.

For me personally, I'm now 18 months as a Lifetime Member in good standing, having lost 32 pounds vs. when I first joined Weight Watchers back in February of 2000 (as noted in earlier posts, I had a few up's and down's on my way to Lifetime).  I feel good about my loss, and I feel better about how I've maintained it.  I have truly changed my life for the better, and I am very much a changed man.  That said, I recognize that I too am fortunate to have so many resources to help me stay on track:  access to a great gym, my bike (whom I adore), a sweet new Whole Foods, healthy restaurants in the city, etc.  In my case, a healthy life has been very possible because of what is available in the environment surrounding me.

All of this brings me to Part 2 of this series.  What about the other end of the income distribution curve?  What about the impoverished areas of our country?

This all came into focus for me again this summer when I volunteered at City Harvest , a fabulous organization in New York City.  City Harvest operates a fleet of 17 refrigerated trucks and 3 bikes that collect food from those who can give and immediately donates it to those who need.  City Harvest specializes in fresh produce collections and donations.  I had the opportunity to volunteer at one of their innovative Mobile Markets, this one in the Bronx in the midst of a large section of low income housing projects.  The morning I volunteered, City Harvest gave out about 19,000 pounds of produce to roughly 500 people, enough to last them for two weeks.  It was an inspiring display by an excellent organization.

Yet, I was shocked and saddened by the fact that this neighborhood even needed a Mobile Market.  The fact is that we literally could not find a single piece of fresh produce in a single store in a ten block radius.  Even those who were able to afford produce had to take a bus to buy it.

This sad state happens all over the country in which low income neighborhoods literally do not have access to healthy foods.  Obesity experts have come to call them "food deserts".  To be clear, you can buy food in a food desert, but only if you use a loose definition for the word "food".  The only food that is available in these neighborhoods is the processed, sugary, added-fat kind.  There are calories to be had in food deserts, but they are almost exclusively empty calories.  Adding insult to injury, the US (and other countries) has become a place where processed food has gotten cheaper, while unprocessed food has gotten more expensive.  Therefore, it's easier to fill a hungry stomach on junk than it is with real food.

Hence this sequence of events has led to the phenomena where those without resources are forced to spend their food allowance on energy dense, caloric foods with little to no nutritional value.  In the process, obesity has thrust itself into places where people have few options and alternatives.  Obesity and poverty have become two sides of the same coin.  Diabetes and other conditions are on the rise.  No where is this more evidence than with kids.  Frankly, it is a deplorable and heart breaking situation.

What can be done?  

Fortunately, there are organizations, like City Harvest, who are laser focused on finding ways of getting nutritious foods into impoverished populations.  For the past two years, Weight Watchers has proudly supported two such organizations dedicated to this noble fight:

  • Share Our Strength :  17 million children in the US faced hunger at some point last year.  Share Our Strength (SOS) has the simple, but beautifully elegant goal to end childhood hunger in this country.  Period.  Founded by brother and sister Billy and Debbie Shore in 1984, their wonderful organization has already raised $200 million since their inception which they have given to over 1,000 organizations.  They fundamentally believe that solving childhood hunger with nutritious food and education is the only way.    
  • Action Against Hunger ACF-USA :  Action Against Hunger (ACF) has the audacious goal of eliminating global hunger, and it specializes in emergency situations of conflict, natural disaster, and chronic food insecurity.  Fully one billion people in the world are now going hungry.  In no place is this more heart breaking and damaging for our collective global future than childhood malnutrition.  ACF has been a leader on the ground in some of the hardest hit countries such as Western Chad, Pakistan, and Niger.  This organization has already had a tremendous impact on childhood nutrition and in reducing malnourishment through programs such as Plumpy'nut.  This amazing peanut-based meal replacement bar has been demonstrated to save children's lives from starvation within a mere month.  

Enter Lose for Good

For the third straight year, Weight Watchers, its meetings members and Online subscribers are doing their part too.  For a seven-week period beginning today, we will be donating money for each pound lost by our members, up to a $1 million donation to be shared between Share Our Strength and Action Against Hunger
ACF-USA. While we are doing this, we are encouraging our members to make food donations equivalent to the weight they lose during this time to their local food banks.  These food drives are being organized by local Weight Watchers volunteers throughout the country.  Last year, our members donated over 2 million pounds of food across the US.

The beauty in these food drives is that they allow each of us to see our weight loss in the form of food.  10 pounds of weight loss may not seem like much until we carry it in a bag, and walk around with it for a while.  It's an excellent visualization tool.  The fact that we can them give that nutrition to someone who needs it is all the more beautiful.  Lose for Good was a simple, beautiful concept invented by a Weight Watchers Leader in the Seattle area (Deb Hugo -- who rocks BTW) several years ago.  It's motivating for the member in all the right ways:  help your health while you help a neighbor in need.

(My 32 pounds of groceries.  Yes, I am in fact rocking some Weight Watchers logowear.  More men should!)  

For my part, I went shopping today for my annual Lose For Good contribution.  I bought my 32 pounds of food, which I will be donating to my local food bank, Person-to-Person in CT.  Holding these bags was a stark reminder of:  1) how significant my weight loss actually was and 2) how really glad I am to no longer have that much weight spread across my body.

For interest, this year I had a new shopping strategy:  wholesome food for five families.  The per family food donation worked out to:

  • 17 servings of oatmeal
  • PB&J for 17 servings
  • 15 servings of rice
  • 7 servings of whole grain pasta with marinara sauce

32 pounds of food:  my Success Wall for this year

It seems like the proverbial drop in the bucket, but I'm only one of millions.  If millions did it (and I hope they will!), that's a whole lot of drops of water.  Which means we're going to need a much bigger bucket.

Please do join me for the next six weeks in making a difference for ourselves and others!




  1. Hello - I am interviewing for a good job at a large medical facility in Minnesota. Now, I know you must have some sort of commute from Conn. - I'll have at least an hour, by bus from my small town. I live on a farm - this new job - while a good one and I know I would be lucky to have one in this market, will create a level of stress. I'll be gone from a farm,people and animals that I love for a long day - I'll have some evening time and weekends.
    I assume you are away from those you love and you commute - does it create stress for you? How do you deal with it?
    I find this type of stress can put weight on me by making poor food choices while on the go - just when I need good nutrition I often eat poorly - go figure.
    The medical campus I would work on has ww meetings - a good thing and a work out facility but my time will be tight and I'll need to catch the bus home.... anyway - kind of a ramble - hope it makes sense - thanks for any thoughts.

  2. Thanks so much for your post. It's great to hear such optimism and energy, and great to see all the good WW is doing. Very exciting.

  3. Thanks for putting the energy of Weight Watchers behind this beautiful concept Dave! So much lost is so much good!!
    Deb Hugo
    (who rocks BTW)

  4. David...loving the shirt! Also loving LFG...great job taking it national AND giving Deb (who rocks BTW) the props she deserves! Kate

  5. hi david-just came across your blog-wow-impressive-32 lbs-id love the idea behind it-i have met you-i am a leader in manchester -england-(actually a triple diamond leader and jean nidetch award winner-how i love saying that ha ha )am joining your challenge -kind regards stella stokes stella stokes 05547 area 34

  6. Love your blog. LOVE LOVE LOVE the shirt. You are correct that more men should wear one. I, for one, am totally grateful for Weight Watchers for changing my life. Over the past year and a few months I have lost over 36 pounds. I am a totally different person now both physically and mentally. When people ask me how I lost the weight, I simply state, Weight Watchers. Where can a guy like me get one of those shirts?

    Thanks again for all you do,
    Mark in Rhode Island

  7. It is so sad that we are living in this era where processed is cheaper and more accessible to natural and healthy. No wonder our kids have ballooned over the last few years. I am originally from Mexico and I remember in elementary school the snacks we would eat after school were sliced oranges with chili powder, fresch jicama or cucumber sticks with lime drops and chili powder... mmm mmmm -- this is comfort food for me. Recently I went back to visit and was saddened by learning that school kids didn't even know what I was talking about. Of course they were eating out of oversized bags of chips! This is a terrible epidemic! Mexico's (as well as Hispanics here in the U.S.) main ailment is diabetes!!

  8. I'm an ardent supporter of he Weight Watchers program- coming up to my 1 year anniversary and having lost 40 #'s (almost there!) My problem is that the same companies that produce the processed junk also produce the WW products, many of them very high in sodium and loaded with artificial non-food. I'm glad that WW is giving back, but I still have a hard time swallowing the product line. Literally.
    On a nicer note- love reading your blog. Thanks for putting yourself out there.

  9. I'm preparing my 110 pounds of food so I can bring it into my meeting a week from Thursday. Carrying 47 pounds was too much last year. I can only imagine how heavy the 110 will feel in spite of the fact that I carried it on my body for so long! I can't wait to experience this again this year..

  10. Hi Dave -- Judy O'Brien here from RHS. I'm back on WW as a lifetime member and down 9 pounds. Congrats on all the success and I hope the Lose for Good program is a screaming success this year!

  11. Hi Dave, I love Lose for Good! Am glad you had the foresight to see the potential in Debbie Hugo's idea she's been doing here on a local basis and made it a national campaign. I agree that Debbie rocks. She is a super leader!! :-) (from Barbara Bruce, Lifetime since 2003, faithful Debbie Hugo groupie since 2005)

  12. Deb DOES rock, 2.4 pounds in my shrine so far. Thanks for taking her idea national!!!

  13. Nice site, and useful information
    Thank you

  14. Dave, thanks for putting the money behind the lose for good, but you really should give Deb Hugo the credit she deserves. Remember in school when you had to cite your sources.

  15. Looks like you might have read the post a little too quickly...

    Second paragraph under "ENTER LOSE FOR GOOD": "Lose for Good was a simple, beautiful concept invented by a Weight Watchers Leader in the Seattle area (Deb Hugo -- who rocks BTW) several years ago."

    I always cite my sources (particularly Deb)!

    Nonetheless, it's great that people are looking out for her!