No need for crash diets, expensive gyms or SAS-style fitness regimes: weight-gain can be halted with easy-to-manage steps, say researchers in an article published in the latest issue of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Report author James Hill, a researcher at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, says that consuming just 100 fewer calories a day can halt weight gain.
This is one less cookie, or three fewer bites of a BigMac. Cutting back by such a small amount could prevent the two pounds of blubber that the average person gains per year.
While 100 fewer calories isn't enough to bring about weight loss, it represents a specific, manageable strategy that people can use to stop the current trend towards blobbiness, claims Hill and his colleagues.
"We asked ourselves, 'what's it going to take to start turning the tide?' The first measure of success is to stop weight gain. That might not be so overwhelming, since we can break it down into concrete steps," said Hill.
Hill and his colleagues studied data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. The NHANES data showed that the prevalence of obesity increased from 23 percent to 31 percent between 1988 and 1994 in the United States. And where flabby Americans go, blobby Brits waddle close behind: obesity in the UK is on the same upward curve as in America.
Hill's team calculated that if weight gain continues at the present rate, 39 percent of the US population will be obese in 2008.
Losing the lard will require two types of approaches, says Hill. The long-term approach would be to mount campaigns similar to those for stopping smoking, seat belt use, and recycling. [Yes, that's right, the UK department of health should run 'On your bike' drives].
The short-term goal is to plug the "energy gap": reducing the amount of calories we consume but do not burn off.
"We all know you've got to eat less and exercise more, but, well, how much? That's what we've laid out," Hill said.
Using the NHANES and CARDIA data, Hill and his colleagues estimated that individuals are gaining, on average, 14-16 pounds in eight years.
Assuming that each pound of body weight gained represents 3500 calories, the researchers calculated that 90 percent of the population is gaining up to 50 extra calories a day. The body doesn't store excess energy with 100 percent efficiency, however. Hill's team figured that for every 100 extra calories consumed, at least 50 would be stored as fat.
"Nobody really ever talks about numbers, but that's what we need. Something around 100 calories a day is do-able," said Hill.
To close the energy gap, people could walk an extra mile a day, something that could be added to most people's daily routine, claims Hill. And cycling just 3-4 miles a day can burn off 100 calories easily. When they've cycled to the cake shop, fatties just need to remember to load up with just one less sticky bun.
"We need to look at what's happening to changes in energy intake and physical activity, and then determine the extent of the problem," said Hill.