Shape Up Secrets

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To reduce obesity, six behavioral changes have been recommended by the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  1. Decreasing consumption of energy-dense foods
  2. Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption
  3. Decreasing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption
  4. Increasing physical activity
  5. Decreasing time spent viewing TV
  6. Increasing breastfeeding initiation, duration and exclusivity

These behaviors have been selected because there is evidence that they can play a role in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. In other words, each behavior can impact energy balance, which is the balance, over time, between calories consumed and calories expended. For example, decreasing the consumption of energy-dense foods favors a reduction in calories consumed whereas increasing physical activity favors an increase in calories expended. Each behavior also has other health benefits besides obesity prevention, and none of these behaviors is considered harmful.

To understand energy balance it is helpful to compare the human body to a car. A car uses gasoline as fuel to run the engine whereas the human body uses food or drink – anything with calories in it – as fuel. A “calorie” is a unit of energy. We use the terms “energy” and “calories” interchangeably throughout this report. The number of calories in a food is a measure of the energy available in that food to power your body. Water and seltzer are two beverages that contain zero calories. But most beverages such as juice, milk, cream, soda, pop, etc. contain calories as well.

The human body uses energy (burns calories) every day to do many things such as move, work, play, and maintain a constant body temperature. Everything your body does requires calories – even the digestion, absorption and utilization of food requires calories. Whether you maintain, lose or gain weight depends on a person’s energy balance over time:

To maintain a constant weight a person must consistently take in (eat and drink) as many calories as he or she uses, and no more. The number of calories required to maintain a constant weight depends upon a person’s age, sex, height, weight and customary physical activity level.

To lose weight, a person must routinely burn more calories than he or she consumes. When calorie intake is consistently less than calorie expenditure, the human body must make up the energy deficit by burning its own stores of fat. In other words, the human body is using its own stores of fat as a fuel source. If the energy deficit is sustained over time, more and more fat is burned, and the individual loses weight until, once again, intake matches expenditure and weight loss stops.

The following table illustrates how each of the 6 targeted behaviors can contribute to a favorable energy balance and also other health benefits gained from adopting this behavior:

Behavior Role in Energy Balance Other Health Benefits of Adopting this Behavior
Decreased energy dense foods (↓ED) Promotes a reduction in energy (i.e. calorie) intake High ED foods such as cakes, cookies, ice cream etc. are usually of poor nutritional quality so reducing their intake can improve the overall quality of the diet and contribute to sound nutritional status and good health
Increased fruits and vegetables (↑FV) Promotes a reduction in energy (i.e. calorie) intake since such foods are lower in calories than most foods Fruits and vegetables are low in calories but rich in both nutrients and fiber. Thus F&V contribute to overall diet quality and contribute to sound nutritional status and good health
Decreased Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (↓SSB) Promotes a reduction in energy (i.e. calorie) intake SSBs deliver calories but not nutrients so reductions in SSBs can contribute to improved nutritional quality of the diet and can benefit dental health
Increased Physical Activity (↑PA) PA burns calories i.e. promotes energy expenditure PA makes a positive contribution to the health of lungs, muscle (including heart muscle), bones, blood vessels, mood and mental health
Decreased Television Viewing Time (↓TV) Creates more time for physical activity; reduces exposure to advertising for energy dense foods and may reducing snacking Decreased television viewing can promote interactions between parents and children and strengthen family ties. Can contribute to improved nutritional quality of the diet since heavily advertised foods on TV are usually of poor nutritional quality
Increased Breastfeeding (↑BF) Promotes self-regulation of food and improved responsiveness to satiety (cessation of eating) Improved immune function, fewer infections and an optimal (slower) pattern of growth of infants

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