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Fat can be Fit

by Sheela Philomena on February 14, 2011 at 11:21 AM
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 Fat can be Fit

Sandy Shaffer, works out three times per week, consumes a healthy diet loaded with fruits and vegetables, at five-foot, five inches (1.65 meters) and 320 pounds (145 kilograms), Shaffer is also considered obese but physically active. The plus-sized sports enthusiast insists that the label says little about the generally excellent state of her health.

And that is the single biggest problem she has with Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" health initiative.The fitness community by-and-large has embraced the first lady's signature program, but a contingent of health experts and aficionados balk at equating improving one's health with lowering one's weight. They say it is possible to be extremely fit and also "overweight" by societal norms.


"I'm glad they encourage people to move, but it's still a negative message," said Shaffer, an administrator at a New York City labor union.

"You can be healthy even if you're 300 pounds," Shaffer said.

First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" signature initiative, which marked its one year anniversary this week, aims to help kids slim down by eating better and getting more active.

"What if they end up with all the health benefits of movement, but they don't end up losing weight? Since this is an anti-obesity thing, are they not failures?" said Shaffer.

"Ballet dancers look good, but you wouldn't necessarily call them healthy if you look at what they have to do to keep at that weight," she said.

"If you take weight out of the picture and take diet out of the picture, you might get people to move longer and more often," she said.

GeMar Neloms, a physical trainer in Silver Spring, Maryland, like Shaffer has been active for decades in the realm of sports, including as a varsity lacrosse player at Oberlin College in Ohio.

She teaches a popular spinning class at Washington Sports Club in Silver Spring, Maryland where many of her students tell her that she is a role model as a "real sized" fitness instructor.

Neloms has attained an admirable level of fitness over the years in spite of a body mass index that suggests she should be considered overweight.

"I can cycle circles around a lot of thinner people. I can hold a plank position longer than a lot of thinner people," she said of a challenging yoga pose.

She confesses that she would like to be a bit thinner, but only if it happens organically as a result of her efforts to attain greater fitness -- not as a primary goal.

"Appearance plays a part, but it's not my priority, my priority has to be my overall health," said Neloms, an officer at a Washington-area non-profit.

She added that as an African-American woman she felt that metrics for what constitutes thinness may be inaccurate.

"We're built differently across cultures," she said. "We all have different body types."

Dr Kenneth Cooper, one of America's leading experts on health and obesity, told AFP that the awareness that a robust body need not mean poor health is something that he has stressed for years.

"We've incorporated both fitness and fatness into all of our studies," said Cooper, head of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas and founder of the non-profit Cooper Institute which conducts health and fitness research.

"We look at fitness as measured by treadmill time as opposed to body mass index," he said.

With the current thinking, he said "I think you put too much emphasis on obesity," adding that one effective measurement of how fitness has actually improved is having a subject walk on a treadmill at 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) per hour.

"I would focus first on inactivity, then on obesity," Cooper said.

Another pet peeve he has with the "Let's Move" program, he said, is a lack of hard metrics to determine whether participants' fitness goals are actually attained.

"I think they're scratching the surface," he said.

"Unless you have some measurement you don't get anywhere. There's no means of quantifying it."

While Cooper would add hard numbers to the First Lady's program, Shaffer said she would change its public face.

One of its most visible spokespeople is diminutive former Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes. Shaffer said heavyset kids might draw more inspiration from a fleshier celebrity.

How about Mo'Nique?," she suggested, referring to the full-figured Oscar-winning actress and comedian.

"She works out a lot," Shaffer said, "and she also embraces her size."

Source: AFP

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