The 2000 Steps programme- realistic goals to make a significant difference to the obesity epidemic

As one new dieting craze relentlessly follows another, endorsed by yet another group of willing celebrities, it seems the diet industry has more to do with selling dreams than reality. Dreams of instantly slender figures aside, the sad reality is that the phenomenal growth of the diet-based industry is paralleling an equally phenomenal escalation in the incidence of obesity. Up to 65% of adults in some developed countries are overweight or obese. And these figures, in both senses of the word, continue to grow.  Being overweight is a health hazard. It significantly increases the risk of many different diseases (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, impotence and Alzheimer’s disease, to name a few) as well as the risk of dying. While both the necessity and the desire to shed unwanted kilograms are not in question, the ways to achieve lasting success definitely are.

Crash or fad dieting programmes clearly do not offer any lasting solutions. Over 90% of people who lose weight in the short-term fail to keep it off long-term. Many end up heavier than when they started the diet. Medical experts are also urging caution as many weight-loss diets are nutritionally unbalanced and may have long-term health consequences. Their message is boringly simple, but offers realistic solutions, not star-peddled dreams. We have to simply eat less and exercise more.

In other words overweight people have to permanently change their lifestyles to achieve lasting weight loss. And that means being realistic about the changes that are made to ensure they are sustainable long-term. Setting ridiculous goals regarding severe deprivation diets and exercise regimes means that people write in their own failure. While thousands sign up for gym subscriptions every year, only a small percentage continues attending. Sound familiar?

Dr Jim Hill at the Centre for Human Nutrition at Colorado University in America believes that there has been too much focus on diet and not enough on exercise, and that a little exercise can make a big difference. He has therefore started the 2000 steps-a-day programme, which is slowly but steadily getting Americans to move- not dramatically but realistically. His programme quite simply urges people to make sure they take 2,000 steps each and every day.

This recommendation is based on the fact that the average American gains roughly a 1kg in body weight each year Hill told a meeting of the Association for the Study of Obesity in London. This means that around 100 calories in excess of people’s needs are being consumed daily. This is roughly equivalent to two biscuits.

“Walking as little as 2,000 steps a day will burn those extra 100 calories and will lead to weight stabilisation, at the very least,” Hill told the Association. He added that small goals that are achievable are exactly what have been lacking in efforts to tackle obesity. Hill and his researchers are currently monitoring five hundred people in order to assess the benefits of this programme. So far most people have found it easy to incorporate the 2,000 extra steps into their day over a 14-week programme. The early indications are that exercise levels are kept up after the initial programme ends and that many people actually start losing weight.

Interesting research suggests that exercise may not only work by burning extra calories but may have an important effect on appetite regulation. When three different groups of people, who didn’t exercise at all, were allowed to eat as much as they wanted from specially prepared meals that were low fat (20% fat) for the first group, medium fat (40% fat) for the second group and high fat (60% fat) for the third group, very interesting things happened.  None of the people in the low fat group overate. In other words none of them consumed more calories than they used in energy expenditure. However everyone eating the medium and high fat meals unconsciously overate, consuming more calories than they used. None of the participants knew which group they were in and whether they were eating high, medium or low fat meals. As most people in developed societies consume a medium fat diet (40% fat), this suggests that those individuals who don’t exercise will be predisposed to overeat and therefore gain weight.

The good news is that when the same three groups all undertook moderate exercise everyone in the group consuming the 40% fat meals stopped overeating and went into energy balance. Only those consuming the 60% fat meals continued to eat in excess of their energy requirements. This fascinating study demonstrates the importance of even moderate exercise on eating patterns, especially at the fat intakes characteristic of many societies today. They may even help to explain why so many members of Hill’s group started to lose weight on the 2000 steps programme.

Ideas to assist reaching 2000 steps a day include things like parking at the furthest end of the car park, using stairs instead of lifts and escalators, taking 100 stationary steps while waiting for the kettle to boil, and so on.

Hill said that he was aiming to inspire people to make small changes, with possibly phenomenal outcomes. He compared this strategy to the effect of saving a dollar a day – in 10 years it can add up to a substantial investment of nearly 4 000 dollars. So all non-exercisers should start by taking small steps to a substantial long-term investment in their physical and mental health.

Linda McCourt.

This article forms part of the McNabs Vitamin Company’s campaign to promote healthier lifestyles. For further information