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Public Health Column for the Times-News

The weight gain risk of holidays

Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2017

By KIM HORTON
Times-News Columnist

We all have a favorite holiday, and November, December and January offer something for everyone—treasured traditions and food. It’s a high-risk time when one piece of pumpkin pie or a single extra-large decorated gingerbread man could set you back several hundred calories. It’s entirely possible to gain several pounds before it’s all over.

A few extra pounds may be acceptable in the short-term for the sensory pleasure of once-a-year treats. After all, Jan. 1 and resolutions to eat better and exercise more are right around the corner. But sometimes life doesn’t work out as planned, and a few pounds gained become a few more each year. Before you know it, your health care provider is telling you that your body mass index, or BMI, which measures excess body fat, has fallen into the obese column.

That’s a statistic that you don’t want to ignore because obesity is associated with serious health risks, including diabetes and heart disease. Poor eating habits and lack of physical activity contribute to the problem.
Obesity is a problem in Henderson County, and it’s been a problem for a long time. The 2015 Community Health Assessment (CHA), which identifies and prioritizes health issues in our community, listed obesity as one of four health priorities to address through Action Teams. Obesity has also been a health priority in every CHA since 2003.

Obesity is a nationwide problem too. Recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported that almost 40 percent of adults and 19 percent of children nationwide are obese. In North Carolina, we have the 16th-highest adult obesity rate in the nation of almost 32 percent, according to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America released August 2017.

The Obesity Action Team has been meeting monthly and considering ways to make physical activity and healthful foods more easily available with the intention to decrease the rate of obesity. One initiative in progress is a new website that will be a one-stop source with links to multiple avenues for ways to be active whether inside or outside, as well as information and links for finding local fresh fruits and vegetables. Finding your next activity or source for fresh broccoli will be as easy as pie.

Speaking of pie and eggnog, turkey and dressing, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, and sugar cookies. Is it possible to get to Janu. 2 without the inevitable weight gain? The answer is yes, but only if you focus on maintaining your weight rather than losing weight. That’s what the 11th-annual “Eat Smart, Move More, Maintain, don’t gain! Holiday Challenge” is about. The seven‐week free online weight maintenance program and tool, offered from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, includes tips, tricks, and ideas to help maintain your weight throughout the holiday season.

To get started, all you need is to be over 18 years old and have a valid email address. The challenge begins Nov. 13 and will run through Dec. 31. Registration is open now at esmmweighless.com/holiday-challenge-live. What’s included?

  • Weekly newsletters and challenges
  • Healthy holiday recipes
  • Social media support groups
  • Daily tips such as how to survive a holiday party, host a healthy Thanksgiving, and manage holiday stress
  • Prizes and weekly winners
  • A virtual walking race for a little friendly competition and to boost motivation

Whether you participate or not, try to make smart food and beverage choices at holiday parties, and continue to exercise despite a busy schedule. The following are tips to help keep your weight in check while still enjoying some holiday treats:

  • Choose vegetables and lean meats over calorie-packed entree.
  • Use chicken stock, fat-free yogurt, light cream cheese, and low-fat milk in place of high-fat ingredients.
  • Serve healthier desserts like fruit with chocolate dip or angel food cake with fruit.
  • Step away from the eggnog! Choose low-calorie punch or sparkling water.
  • Plan your daily meals and calories. Make wise food choices throughout the day.
  • Get moving! Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day to maintain health and burn extra calories.
  • Take small portions of the “must have” dishes you look forward to each year, and skip the dishes that are not your favorites.
  • Skip the bread and rolls to save 150-200 calories.
  • Indulge in your favorite holiday meal once, but do not indulge day after day. Let others take the leftovers home.

Let’s make Henderson County one of the top participating counties this year. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, no pun intended. On Jan. 2, 2018, you’ll be glad you took the challenge.

For more information about the 2017 Challenge, visit hendersoncountync.org/health. Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina is a statewide movement that promotes increased opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity wherever people live, learn, earn, play and pray to reverse the rising tide of obesity and chronic disease among North Carolinians, according to their website eatsmartmovemorenc.com.


Kim Horton is the communications manager at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

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