Mar 15

Keeping their status as the enactors of cutting edge legislation, the state of California is pushing to become the first state to create an animal abuse registry that would contain the names of people who have been convicted of animal abuse. Similar to the sex offender registry, this proposed legislation would seek to protect future victimization by limiting the access that animal abusers have to those they might seek to harm.

If the goal of this legislation is to prevent abusive behavior towards pets, then 35 million dog owners may deserve to have a place on a pet abuse registry. That’s the estimated number of dogs in America that are being overfed into a state of obesity and eventual death, according to the statistics of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP).

“We are killing our dogs by making them fat,” according to Dr. Ernie Ward, a 20-year veterinarian, the founder of APOP, and the author of the dog obesity book, “Chow Hounds.” Although the motivation behind overfeeding a dog and putting it into a dog fighting ring are very different, the outcomes for both are the same – the dog’s health and well-being are put at risk, and death is a real possibility.

One of the reasons that dog obesity is out of control, according to Dr. Ward, is a lack of awareness that there is a problem. Millions of people have forgotten what a normal weight dog looks like. “Owners who think their dogs are ‘fluffy,’ are stuck in the fat gap,” says Dr. Ward. But just because we think our dogs look “normal,” doesn’t mean that they are.

Most commonly, the definition of pet obesity is an animal weighing 30% over its ideal body weight, according to breed standards. Because there are so many mixed breed dogs in the world, it’s sometimes difficult to determine exactly what that ideal weight is. The easiest way to determine if your dog is overweight, according to Dr. Ward, is to look at its appearance objectively, instead of looking at it with a cuteness bias. If you can’t feel your dog’s ribs or see a defined waistline, your dog is overweight. And just like it is for humans, rolls of belly fat and back fat are not “normal,” they’re just plain fat.

The fact that human obesity and dog obesity are both on the rise in the U.S. is not a coincidence. A recent Amsterdam study published in the Public Health Nutrition journal found that overweight owners tend to have overweight dogs. That study concluded that this is not coincidental, but rather causal. When pet owners aren’t getting enough exercise to control their own weight, chances are, their dogs are not getting enough exercise either. The lack of physical activity contributes to the obesity of both man and man’s best friend.

But just as lack of exercise is not the only culprit behind the obesity of 70 million Americans, it’s not the only cause of dog obesity either. A lack of nutritious food and an abundance of empty calories are problematic for both overweight owners and paunchy pups.

As far back as 1997 the effect of sugar and fat on animal weight was known. A study published in the American Journal of Physiology showed the effect that the contents of animal diets can have.

Researchers bred obesity-prone and obesity-resistant rats and compared the behaviors of the two groups when offered an identical diet. When fed a high fat diet, the obesity-resistant rats ate much less of the food offered to them. The obesity-prone rats tended to eat everything that was offered to them.

When the two groups of rats were fed a diet that was both high in fat and high in sugar, the consumption of food in both groups was the same – all the rats ate excessively and all of the rats became obese. The conclusion? The combination of high fat and high sugar is so addictive that it overrides an animal’s natural appetite regulation system.

Fast forward thirteen years and the commercial dog foods that millions of dog owners are feeding their beloved pooches are spiked with… what else? Sugar and fat! (A generous portion of salt is thrown into all the “best” brands of dog foods as well, in order to make the trifecta of addictive ingredients complete). Dog food manufacturers that label their fatty-sugary-salty pet foods as “healthy,” are not nearly as concerned about Fido’s fitness as they are about Mommy’s money.

Dog owners tend to repurchase the dog food brands that their furry friends seem to like the best. And as the rats in the 1997 research study proved, animals will always show a definite preference for the food that is the most addictive. Fido begs, mommy buys, and the cycle of addictive eating that leads to pet obesity continues.

Unfortunately, the most dangerous part of today’s doggy diet is not even the fat, sugar, and salt-laced food they’re overeating at mealtimes, according to Dr. Ward. The worst thing that owners are feeding their pets these days are those innocent looking in-between meal treats. Those cute little puffed, baked, bone-shaped biscuits, chews, and cookies are so high in salt, fat, and sugar and so highly addictive that Dr. Ward refers to them as “kibble crack.”

Just as with humans, sugar is addicting to dogs and causes not only an insatiable craving for more sugar, but also a compulsive craving for food in general. The relentless begging your dog starts every time a human being is in the vicinity of the treat cabinet is not just annoying. If equated to the type of frantic behavior that a drug addict exhibits when they are desperate for their next fix, Fido’s begging is not so much annoying as it is alarming. And continuing to supply our pets with “kibble crack” is equivalent to being the supplier for a loved one’s drug habit.

Obesity stops being cute or funny in man’s best friend at the point when it starts to adversely affect their health. Obese dogs have a higher risk for osteoarthritis, insulin resistance, hypertension, heart disease, and cancer, according to an annual survey conducted by APOP.

“Sadly we’re raising the first generation of dogs that likely won’t live as long as their parents,” Dr. Ward writes in his “Chow Hounds” book.

In a nation where animals are considered to be so much a member of the family that doggy day care, puppy play dates, canine car seats, and pet health insurance are standard, it is incomprehensible that Americans are literally feeding their pets to death. It is Dr. Ward’s belief that with a little bit of education and a few simple changes the obesity epidemic in American house pets can be reversed. America’s pet owners can easily find different and more healthy ways to express their love for their “canine kids” without turning them into “Chow Hounds.”

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Feb 22

Thirty million obese children in the U.S. might be slimmer and healthier if they read more, according to the findings of a recent study by the Duke University Medical Center. The “Study of Children’s Literature and Healthy Lifestyle” found that obese girls from 9 to 13 years old who read an assigned novel decreased their Body Mass Index (BMI) seven times more than girls in the program who were not assigned a book to read.

The results of this study seem counterintuitive since sedentary lifestyles are pointed to as one of the major causes for childhood obesity and reading isn’t exactly an aerobic activity. In this case, though, the assigned reading was a fiction novel with an overweight heroine who creates a healthier lifestyle for herself. Presumably, the heroine became a role model and her success in the story inspired readers to create success for themselves.

It makes sense that a fictional character could make this kind of impact, considering how much teens are influenced by fictional characters in movies. A 2006 study by Dartmouth Medical School found that the more movies that children watched in which alcohol was consumed, the more likely they were to start drinking alcohol while they were still in their teens. Dartmouth researchers also found that the children who most often observed smoking in films were twice as likely to start smoking themselves.

So if the real-life behavior of teens and pre-teens is influenced greatly by entertainment channels, it only makes sense that messages that combat the growing childhood and teen obesity epidemic would be best delivered through an entertainment medium that has an impact on them.

This is exactly the logic that led a 14-year old boy in Georgia to create a fitness plan for himself that was inspired by his favorite video games. He called it “The Ultimate Fitness Game” and, with the same gaming strategies he had used to rack up high numbers on a video game scoreboard, he started creating low numbers on his bathroom scale. Three years after taking on the starring role in a three-dimensional game of his own creation, Taylor LeBaron has lost – and kept off – 150 pounds, half of his highest body weight of 297.

“As soon as people started noticing my weight loss, I began to hear, ‘How did you do it?’” Taylor wrote in his book, “Cutting Myself In Half,” which explains his Ultimate Fitness Game. “They were looking for my secret so they could lose a lot of weight too.”

“The secret is: There is no secret,” LeBaron writes. “Weight loss isn’t quick. It isn’t easy. And gimmicks don’t work for long.”

LeBaron believes that taking it slow is one of the most important strategies that can help other obese teens. “Naturally we all want fast results – we’re the DSL generation,” he says in his book. But trying to achieve too much too fast with weight loss is a big mistake, in his experience. Putting it into video gaming terms that teens can relate to LeBaron says, “In gaming, that’s called ‘overlocking’ – running your processor at a faster speed than it’s rated. That burns up the processor and can ruin it permanently.”

The teenage desire for instant gratification is not an easy mindset to reboot, however. Perhaps that’s why there is so much discussion going on about using gastric band surgery as a treatment for obesity in teens. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that gastric band surgery resulted in obese teens losing more weight more quickly. This surgical approach, however, is controversial because it creates a drastic change to a child’s physiology, and there are no statistics about what kind of long-term effect those changes might have on their overall health and well-being.

Instead of making drastic surgical choices, First Lady Michelle Obama is working to encourage obese children to make drastic lifestyle changes instead with her “Let’s Move” program. The First Lady is challenging children to take one hour out of the usual seven that they spend in front of electronic entertainment each day to work on achieving the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award. The award is given to children who achieve exercise goals five days per week for six weeks.

Speaking about exercise, Obama said, ‘There are so many ways that we can make this fun, make it a competition, have the rewards be really cool. And kids respond to incentives.”

That’s a philosophy that LeBaron agrees with wholeheartedly. That’s why he thinks about everything in his own fitness regiment in gaming terms. Calories are money. Unhealthy food is the enemy. Eating healthy food gets energy points. The overall score is measured in weight loss. Just like the First Lady says, LeBaron made it fun, made it a competition with himself, and the rewards, so far, have been much “cooler” than he could have imagined. LeBaron has discovered that permanent weight loss is all about attitude.

In January, Taylor LeBaron was one of ten teens who were chosen by Coke to carry the Olympic torch in the relay leading to the 2010 Vancouver games. As an obese video gamer he couldn’t walk to his mailbox without getting winded. As a physically fit “Ultimate Fitness Gamer,” the 300 meters he ran with the Olympic torch in his hand was “the most incredible distance I’ve ever traveled,” LeBaron said in his blog.

According to the Journal of Obesity, if things keep moving the way they have been in the United States, 86% of men, women, and children will be overweight or obese by the year 2030. For future generations, that statistic would resemble the tragic life depicted in the Disney movie, “WALL-E.” For Michelle Obama, that statistic would represent a “move” in the wrong direction. For Taylor LeBaron that statistic would mean one thing for the population of the United States of America… “Game Over.”

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