“In the United States and in Canada, the average adult gains about one pound a year,” says Armand E. Sabitoni, LIUNA’s General Secretary-Treasurer and the LHSFNA’s Labor Co-Chairman, citing new research from the Harvard School of Public Health. “That’s 30 pounds from age 30 to 60. For those who want to avoid gaining these pounds and their associated health risks, the study offers some new insight and guidance.”

Unlike most studies about health and weight, where the focus is on methods for weight loss after obesity develops, the Harvard research – twenty years of eating habit data collected from over 120,000 Americans participating in three separate studies – looked at factors linked to long-term weight gain. It found that all calories are not created equal. Whether or not they lead to unwanted pounds depends on a food’s dietary quality. It seems that eating too much is not necessarily the main reason why we gain weight. Rather, it is because we don’t eat the right foods.

Alternate description

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

For example, people who ate a daily serving of potatoes added 1.28 pounds to their weight over a period of four years regardless of whether the potatoes were baked, fried or mashed. Potato chips added 1.69 lb. Every additional daily serving increased gain by an equivalent amount. Similar findings were found with sugar-sweetened beverages (1.0 lb) and meats, whether unprocessed (0.95 lb) or high-in-sodium& processed (0.93 lb). The results indicate that no matter how little of these foods we eat, the calories acquired turn to pounds that are hard to burn off.

In contrast, those who ate a daily handful of peanuts or a daily serving of fruit or vegetables prevented weight gain (-0.57, -0.49 and -0.22 lb, respectively), and a daily four-ounce serving of yogurt – regular, low-fat or no-fat – kept off nearly a pound (-0.82 lb). With these foods, the calories acquired are easy to burn or help burn the calories from other foods. People who eat a lot of these foods gain the least weight.

The study also found that lifestyle factors – exercise, sleeping, alcohol consumption, TV watching, smoking and quitting smoking – contribute to weight loss or gain and overall health. With the exception of exercise and sleeping, the more people engaged in any of these activities, the more pounds they put on. However, diet was the most influential factor, and the study’s key findings for preventing long-term weight gain are:

  1. Focus on improving carbohydrate quality by eating less sugars (e.g., soda) and other sweets as well as fewer starches (e.g., potatoes) and refined grains (e.g., white bread, white rice and breakfast cereals low in fiber).
  2. Focus on eating more minimally-processed foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and yogurt) and fewer highly-processed foods (e.g., white breads, processed meats and sugary beverages).

In this issue of LIFELINES, we take a hard look at America’s eating habits and the weight gain that follows, and we offer suggestions for improvement that are not hard to swallow.

“Our dietary habits and behaviors are leading to a nation that is increasingly overweight and unhealthy,” says Sabitoni. “We need to target our food choices and bring more to the table than taste. Mindful eating is the key to good health.”

Nutrition & Fitness for Laborers

The LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Division offers a workshop on nutrition and fitness for Laborers. For more information, call 202-628-5465. Becoming Physically Active and Weight Matters, brochures offering tips and information on exercise and diet, can be ordered through the online Publications Catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]