Physical activity gifts; Wii and fitness; abdominal obesity and mortality
December 2008
Shape Up America! Newsletter

Holiday Weight Gain
The holidays are upon us and many folks look forward to enjoying the festivities but fear gaining weight. A study conducted several years ago by NIH researchers showed that over the holidays, weight gain amounts to about one and a half pounds. That is an average, which means that some people gained more and some gained less. If you wish to be in the latter group, here are three tips to keep in mind:

  • Cling to your commitment to exercise, even if it means changing your usual routine to accommodate holiday obligations. For example, a large family can go to the local schoolyard and play a game of soccer before settling down to Christmas dinner. If that sounds too ambitious for you, consider going for a walk together.
  • Fill up your plate just once and don't go back for seconds.
  • Focus on family and friends, not food. The food is special and many dishes make their appearance only at this time of the year. So enjoy! But if all that food feels a little threatening, take your mind off it by catching up with members of your family or your friends. To prepare yourself mentally, take some "alone time" to think about who will be there and what you can share with each other about your lives.

Happy Holidays from Shape Up America!

Physical Activity: A Gift Worth Giving
by Rian Landers
In an age where kids are glued to the TV and consumed by video games, it is more important than ever to find gifts this holiday season that will get people moving. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) recommends that children should accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity on all or most days of the week.1 Kids instinctively want to play and move. However, a recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) study showed that children's physical activity drops from age 9 to 15. By age 15, most children fail to reach the recommended level of physical activity.2,3 Additionally, nationwide, only 48.8% of adults get the recommended amount of physical activity per week4 and 24.1% of adults report that they receive NO leisure time physical activity.5 Knowing these facts, it is important that we provide our loved ones with the opportunities to turn physical activity into a lifelong habit in which we can all participate.

No matter what time of year, we can encourage others to mobilize by giving gifts that involve movement, games and companionship with friends and family.

There are a variety of simple gifts that will promote activity for any age or setting. Balls for soccer, basketball, baseball, tennis, etc., or other classics such as Twister®, hula hoops, bean bags, footbags (Hacky Sack) and jump ropes always make good gifts. Use your imagination; pair activity props together to develop fun and creative new games. Colder weather activities include sleds, cross-country skis and ice skates, while warmer weather ideas include bikes, scooters, skateboards, inline skates (Rollerblade®) and fishing equipment. So before you buy that video game, here are a few more activity-based gift ideas for your family and friends:

  • Fisher-Price Smart Cycle™ for toddlers
  • Kites
  • Slip 'N Slide® (outdoor water game)
  • Mask and snorkel
  • Frisbee®
  • Boogie boards
  • Pool or yard volleyball
  • Roller Racer® (seated scooter)
  • Skip It (skipping game)
  • Playskool Ages & Stages toys
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Pedometer
  • Snow shoes
  • Ball rebounder
  • Horseshoes
  • Baseball glove and ball
  • Tennis ball and racket
  • Ping Pong or table tennis
  • Trampolines
  • Indo Board® (balance trainer)
  • Skis or snowboards

If you are still having trouble getting the video game lovers away from the TV or computer, incorporate activities such as Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) or the Nintendo® Wii™/Wii Fit™. Another alternative could be CDs or DVDs that teach dance or martial arts moves. Parents can judge the age appropriateness of these videos, and the videos can conform to everyone's schedule, making for fun gatherings with friends.

All ages can benefit from many of these activities. Many adults, including seniors, are enjoying the Nintendo Wii and Wii Fit, while some continue to play the same sports and games they did as kids. Adults seeking new ideas should check out websites such as Excitations for a variety of unique and active outings. Viewers can select different geographic regions that offer exciting experiences such as the flying trapeze, canyoneering, kayaking trips, and much more! Use the site to get ideas for local adventures, and then research online how you can create an affordable adventure right in your backyard. For example, if a guided mountain biking trip sounds fun, try organizing a local bike outing as a holiday gift for some friends. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day out of exploring.

Gym memberships are another great option for kids and adults of all ages. Gift certificates and family memberships get everyone involved, and for those who do not enjoy the traditional gym setting, alternative gyms such as rock climbing centers or yoga studios can provide a family event. Horseback riding lessons, gymnastics, ice skating classes, and dance classes are other fun options. Consider exploring your local yellow pages or weekly newspapers, which often advertise facilities' specials with free day or week trials.

When it comes to gifts that promote physical activity, the options are endless! Keep that in mind this holiday season as you are out shopping. It will benefit the health and well-being of your loved ones, and participating with them will create and strengthen bonds for a lifetime!

Rian Landers is Program Manager for Research for the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE)

Is Wii™ a Win?*
by Barbara J. Moore, PhD
In the fall of 2006, a new video game system, or "exergame," called the Nintendo® Wii™ was launched and is now a global craze with more than 11 million sold in the United States alone. The Wii involves physical movements on the part of players, but does it burn calories and improve fitness? To test this, 16 males and females, ages 20 to 29, had their baseline fitness assessed and then were trained to use the standard Nintendo Wii bundled with Wii Sports. The specific games tested were Wii baseball, boxing, bowling, golf and tennis.

Each volunteer played all 5 sports in a random order. Each game lasted 10 minutes with a 5 minute break between each game. Energy expenditure was assessed at 1 minute intervals throughout the games. During the final minute of each game, the perceived exertion level was evaluated using the validated Borg rating of perceived exertion.

The researchers concluded that all of the games caused an increase in energy expenditure (burns more calories), an increase in heart rate and an increase in perceived exertion compared to sitting around. Boxing raised calorie-burn the most, followed by tennis. Bowling and baseball raised calorie-burn at intermediate levels, while golf raised energy expenditure the least of all the games.

Although parents may be pleased to know that their children are burning more calories than just sitting or playing with another video game, it's important to keep in mind that playing the real sport burns more calories than playing the identical sport on Wii.

* This article is adapted from one bearing the same title appearing in Nutrition Today. 2008;43(5):198. The Nutrition Today article identifies the American Council on Exercise as the source of the data.

Abdominal Obesity and Risk of Premature Death
by Barbara J. Moore, PhD
For more than 50 years, we have known that too much girth around the middle is associated with an increased risk of killer diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine focused on the impact of abdominal obesity on mortality, and the findings took a number of people by surprise.1

The researchers examined the association of body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) to the risk of death in 359,387 adults who participated in a large European study called EPIC.* (Waist-to-hip ratio is the ratio of the circumference of the waist to the circumference of the hips). The participants were followed for an average of 9.7 years, during which time 14,723 died.

People with the highest (top quintile) waist circumference faced a doubled risk of dying. The effect was slightly less strong, but still significant, for people with the highest WHR. BMI remained a significant predictor of premature death in models that included waist circumference and WHR. This finding led the authors to conclude that both general fatness (reflected by BMI) and abdominal obesity (reflected by both waist circumference and WHR) are associated with an elevated risk of death. The researchers, therefore, support the measurement of BMI, waist circumference and WHR in assessing mortality risk associated with obesity.

In this European study, the lowest risk of death was observed at a BMI of 25.3 for men and 24.3 for women. In the United States, the range of BMI values associated with lowest risk of both death and disease are 18.5 to 24.9 in both men and women. The following table summarizes the values currently used in the United States to evaluate abdominal obesity and health risk:

Indicator of Abdominal Obesity Value Associated with Lowest Health Risk
Waist Circumference < 40 inches (adult male)
< 35 inches (adult female)
No values in children are currently available
Waist-to-Hip Ratio (WHR) ≤ 1.0 (adult male)
≤ 0.8 (adult female)
No values in children are currently available

*EPIC stands for European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition

Menus for Weight Loss and Healthy Eating
Shape Up America! offers these simple, convenient 1500 calorie and 2000 calorie menus to help you eat healthfully while controlling your calories.

My Story
Bree has a friend who appreciates her despite her weight, and that makes her feel very special.

I am 11 years old, yes I am young, I go to a Catholic school with a lot of other people and you think they wouldn't make fun of you but they do. I weigh 122 pounds and I exercise so much but I don't lose anything... Just the other day me, my sister, my friends Abby, Marcus, and Annie, we were all running, walking and riding bikes to Sonic... Well that day, a lot of people at school gave me mean looks. While we were running, everyone except for me and my sister ran ahead and I got sick and threw up. When we finally made it to where everyone else was, my friend Abby said that it might be that I'm losing weight and becoming skinnier again. We all stopped for a second and I looked at Abby and said "Thanks, you actually look at me as someone else" and she said, "You have always been skinny to me." So then while me and her were running, I thought about what everyone at school thought of me and I said to myself, "You know what? I don't care what everyone else thinks, at least I have a friend who actually appreciates me!!!!"

Shape Up America! wants to hear about you! If you would like to share your personal success story and be an inspiration to others who desire to lose weight, simply use our story submission system on the SUA Web site.

Recipe of the Month
Cod takes on a Mediterranean flavor in this tasty dish. Green beans, asparagus or broccoli are a nice accompaniment to the fish.
Sicilian Cod
Makes 4 servings

spinach pesto pasta


  • 4 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 medium yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 3 Tbsp. golden raisins
  • 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Cooking spray
  • 4 (4 oz.) cod fillets (haddock, halibut, or catfish may be substituted)
  • 2 Tbsp. Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh basil, coarsely chopped (or 2 tsp. dried)


  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Heat 2 tsp. oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Heat garlic until light golden brown. Add onion, bell peppers, raisins, vinegar, brown sugar, salt and pepper.
  3. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion and vegetables are tender, approximately 15-20 minutes. Set aside, but keep warm.
  4. Spray shallow baking dish and place fillets in it. Brush the fish with remainder of oil. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
  5. Bake at 450 degrees for approximately 12 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Spoon onion mixture over fish before serving and sprinkle with basil.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 220 calories, 6 grams total fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 20 grams carbohydrate, 22 grams protein, 2 grams dietary fiber, 230 milligrams sodium.

Source: American Institute for Cancer Research

phone: 406-686-4844

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Editor: Adrienne Forman, MS, RD

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