DEAR ABBY: Allow me to respond to the column about obesity in the United States (Dec. 27). Why has obesity in the U.S. become the "elephant in the room," off-limits to discuss? Obesity is a serious health problem and should be talked about. Obese people need to understand the potential dangers of their condition, just as smokers do.
I was berated by my family, friends and the media for being a smoker. Did I disown them all? No, I sucked it up and quit. Overweight people should take control of their lives, and people like you, Abby, should stop coddling them! -- PETER IN BEND, ORE.
DEAR PETER: Ouch! Many readers also felt I should eat my words -- including health care professionals. Read on for more insights:
DEAR ABBY: As a public health nutritionist, I would like to bring another perspective to "Brother Black Sheep," whose sister banned him from family events because he mentioned the obesity epidemic. Because obesity has far-reaching implications for our children, our future and our economy, it is well worth talking about.
Declaring the topic off-limits won't make it go away. Researchers at Stanford University have found that more than 40 percent of parents of obese children described them as "about the right weight." Another study showed that only 30 percent of pediatricians addressed weight issues with their patients. Those who did were more likely to see positive changes in their patients' nutrition and activity habits.
Tact is, of course, important, and it appears "Brother" could use some help in that department. Acknowledging the difficulty of maintaining a healthy weight when we are surrounded by hyper-palatable foods and live in an environment that discourages activity is a good conversation starter. Using the phrase "high BMI" (Body Mass Index) is better received than the word "fat." Hopefully, families can learn to talk productively about how to support each other to eat right and stay active instead of banning the subject. -- ANITA COURTNEY, M.S., R.D.
DEAR ABBY: I'm a fourth-year medical student, and you wouldn't believe the number of patients we see who don't believe they have a weight problem, or who think they're "slightly overweight" when they're actually morbidly obese. A main reason for weight gain is that most Americans have no concept of portion control and healthy eating habits.
Many people would prefer a magic pill instead of attempting difficult behavioral changes. While weight is obviously a sensitive topic for many individuals, and "Brother" was mistaken in assuming it would be acceptable dinnertime conversation, ignoring the topic is what got us into this epidemic in the first place.
I challenge "Brother" to introduce his relatives to the sensible habits he learned abroad -- walking, healthier meals with smaller portions, and less fried, salted, sugary processed foods. Supportive family members are often far more effective than a doctor's lecture on the perils of obesity, and I wish him luck in his endeavors. -- MED STUDENT WITH NO MAGIC PILL
DEAR READERS: If, after reading this, any of you are interested in a tried-and-true program for weight loss, Overeaters Anonymous is a 12-step self-help group that started in 1960. It has been mentioned in this column many times. Its website is �HYPERLINK www.oa.org ��www.oa.org�; the phone number is (505) 891-2664. There are more than 9,000 O.A. groups in the U.S. and internationally.