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join the discussion: What will it take to improve America's diet and halt the obesity epidemic?

Dear FRONTLINE,

I wish we had more programs like "Diet Wars". I found it extremely well done, informative, and practical.

The program touched on the issue of poor nutrition in our public schools, but only for a brief "sound byte". I am employed in the public schools and I find it ironic that while we're trying to teach our children to eat right and be healthy, the schools are serving them such terrible junk food.

I could visualize an entire program on the subject of school lunches, educating children on nutritious eating habits and childhood obesity.

With the increasing awareness regarding obesity in the United States, I still do not see the subject of nutrition in our public schools mentioned.

Dan Millholland
Essexville, Michigan

Dear FRONTLINE,

I was impressed with the breadth of coverage you took on the issue, analyzing not only the diets, but some of the societal issues that contribute to Americans' increasing waistlines. However, there is an important aspect of this issue that you failed to include in your program.

One of the important reasons why food companies are have added sugars to many foods is, not just to reduce the fat content (which your program touched on), but because of how the agricultural industry in our country is subsidized by the federal government. Back in the 1970s, the government started paying farmers to grow corn, for which there was no market. The reasons for this are convuluted, but the end result is that there is a glut of corn in the country today. The farmers have no reason to stop growing it because the government will guarantee them a profit, unlike other more risky crops that are not subsidized. This excess corn is then turned into "high fructose corn syrup" which is then added to hundreds of processed foods. This "extra energy" in processed foods is what is turned into fat when people lead sedentary lives, such as most people have today. The excess, subsidized corn has become so endemic that there is more than the food companies like ADM can put into food; so Congress is now considering legislation to force energy companies to add methanol (a corn product) into all gasoline.

I think you should have a follow-up show on the agricultural industry and how their lobbying is affecting our "culture of fat". Keep up the good work. Frontline is consistently one of the most thorough and in-depth news programs out there today. I applaud your efforts.

David Tripp
San Francisco, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

I found your program to be extremely interesting, especially since it was presented through the eyes of a fellow Baby Boomer...the generation that is determined to live forever. As a 52 year old woman, I am a dedicated soldier in the war on obesity. I have lost 94 pounds and am only 6 pounds from having a BMI in the Normal Weight category. But, it has taken me 7 years to get here through daily exercise and healthy eating. This is what I have learned...

Americans are the only society who wants to lose weight by eating. We're suckers for the latest diet craze. We want results without the hard work and self discipline it takes to get there. We are a product of our own successes. Grocery stores are proof of that. Who needs 50 varieties of chocolate chip cookies, two aisles of soda choices, hundreds of brands of cereal etc.? My biggest battle is fought every week in the supermarket...saying no...no...no...over choice after choice.

Also, the food pyramid needs to be changed. Instead of the bottom section (the largest section) recommending breads, rice and pasta, it should be filled with vegetables. Vegetables are the magic diet food. You can eat piles of vegetables with every meal without piling on the pounds.

And lastly, why are we afraid to count calories? We're willing to count fat grams...we're willing to count carbs...we're willing to count Weight Watcher points...what wrong with counting good old fashion calories?

Thanks again for the great show...I'm glad I taped it so I can share it with others.

Christine Gochee
Hartford, CT

Dear FRONTLINE,

Last night's segment with Mr. Talbot was wonderful. My eyes and ears were glued to the tv, having struggled for many years with the "battle of the bulge."

My hope in submitting this email is to pass on some additional information for those viewers who, like myself, have come to learn that diets don't work for them.

My abbreviated story is this: From the age of 8 to 24 I tried every diet and every gimmick, only to work my way up to 203.5 pounds. Eight years ago, my struggle ended when I was introduced to FA- Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous- a twelve step program for people who suffer from food addiction. I have since lost nearly 100 pounds (I'm only 5 feet tall). Today I live in a happy, healthy body and I have neutrality around food.

FA saved my life. I am truly grateful and want very much to pass along a message of hope. Learning more about FA is easily done by visiting the website at www.foodaddicts.org.

With health, happiness, and freedom,

sharon, ma

Dear FRONTLINE,

My friend mentioned that she thinks weight loss is all about willpower and choice. I strongly disagree. I think the opinion varies on where you're coming from. As someone who has struggled with weight my whole life, I definitely see it as a bigger issue than willpower and choice.

I don't think people should sue McDonald's for "making" them fat, but I do think society's overabundance of choice makes it difficult for people to make wise ones all the time. And clearly some people find it easier to make better choices than others. And some people simply (I swear) don't seem to be as hungry as others. I don't think that's all about willpower.

I think there are a whole slew of issues from

- family environment (what types of eating styles/choices were modeled for you as a child and made to seem "normal"),

- emotional issues (eating not for physical hungry but to satisy other conscious or unconscious emotional "hungers")

- food availability (environment, cost),

- income/education (overweight and obesity is more common in lower income/education populations), and

- chemical issues (e.g. leptin still being reseached).

I've been successful at most everything in my life that I've set my mind to. So I think that if losing weight was a simple as willpower - I would have won that battle by now... And when I do get my weight to where I (and the doctors) think it should be, I don't think it'll be due to me finally having the willpower to eat right and exercise more. I think it'll be due to conquering the bad food training in my past and the emotional issues that cause me to turn to food as a comfort.

Silver Spring, MD

Dear FRONTLINE,

I viewed the show last night and enjoyed it! I am an Health Educator and I will definitely use this in my class. I just got done printing off all of the student worksheets that go along with it.

PBS did a fantastic job of informing America about the various diets out there, as well as letting us know what we can do to maintain a healthy weight. I sure hope that a lot of people watched the show, our eating habits must change or there will be many problems. Thanks for showing such a great segment!

Shawn Moretti
black river falls, wi

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline.

DIET WARS was interesting, but incomplete. The "exercise more" part of the formula is increasingly difficult for Americans to do.

Fewer work in physically demanding jobs. Many commute, sitting, to and from work and travel quite far in doing so. The separation of work and life, and the reliance on auto transit for even the simplest tasks removes a lot of the effort that people had to make years ago in walking to the grocery, school, work, etc. Middle class parents coach their children to activities, sports, enrichments and rehearsals, and spend time watching the kids, rather than excercising themselves. In the northern parts of the country, winter and darkness make exercise even more difficult on a work day. Many parents resort to fast food, despite misgivings, because evening meal times get pushed back due to the parents' commute or activities.

We can diet all we like, but getting the needed exercise will require a lot more re-engineering and major changes in basic patterns of American life.

Alex Bienkowski
Galveston, Tx

Dear FRONTLINE,

I believe everyone has to take responsibility for their own health, but what I find unacceptable is the way food processing and food preperation is handled in this country. Like the scam of non-fat ice cream just containing tons of sugar, the entire industry has mislead us with marketing claims. They are not lying, just not telling you the whole truth.

Too many people don't have enough information to filter out the truth, they simply believe that food processors and the government that controls them would never mislead them. I beleive this is where the real problem is, just look at how much high fructose corn syrup has made it into the food supply over the last 20 years and you will see how big profits are leading us too big bottoms!

Dan Dieck
Racine, Wi

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you for your outstanding program - I found the New York Times writer and the Harvard expert especially insightful.

Something has been on my mind regarding the diet war - - what if both sides are right, and the difference really lies in an individual's metabolism?

I think we can all agree that there are people who through genetics are lean, while others are naturally stocky. My own unscientific observation is that people who are naturally lean seem able to process higher levels of carbs without gaining weight. These are the same people who promote higher carb diets. I'd say Ornish and that super lean guy from Florida fall in this camp.

On the other hand, stockier people I've talked to seem to benefit from a diet lower in carbs. And gain weight quickly from carbs. Atkins, the South Beach author, and the New York Times all appeared to be stockier by nature.

So, is it possible this is not an "either/or" argument, but rather a discussion of the effects of diet on individual metabolism?

Minneapolis, MN

Dear FRONTLINE,

It was gratifying to see the well planned show "Diet Wars", and the honest appraisal of today's biggest health issue. I have recently come to the same conclusion, that each one of us are responsible for our health. The old adage; "garbage in - garbage out" .... seem to be appropriate.

I have been fat since the age of 6 and have used every excuse available to deny my own role in this fact. The fact remains: I have CHOSEN this unhealthy lifestyle in spite of the fact that I am an intelligent human being! It does not paint a pretty picture of myself - TO myself. But in light of all other addictions, I suppose that the trade-off ... the consequence of the consumption of fattening foods, were great enough to keep me doing it over a lifetime. I am now 62 and finally having the guts to state the above.

Reading the labels on food items you intend to consume really has been an eye-opener, and all the claims to "new and improved", "reduced calory", and "reduced fat" claims may essentially be true .... but mostly that seems to mean a reduction of a small fraction of the calories. In a way it is almost a relief to find that there are no substitution for good choices, caloriecounting and a careful look at the intake and 'output' of calories. If you eat less than you burn - YOU LOOSE WEIGHT! And the opposite causes weight gain! It really isn't hard ... just difficult to digest!!! It puts it ALL ON ME!!! WHERE IT BELONGS!!! Who would have thunk??

Thank you for being straight and true!!! Once again; common sense will prevail!! Now all I have to do is: DO IT!!

But is it terribly wrong of me to still hope for that little magic pill that will take the effort out of it? We can put men on the moon ....

Gertrud McGreevy
Edgewater, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

I enjoyed the show, and it basically confirmed what I've learned over the years - eat healthy amounts of healthy food and exercise regularly. Many people lose weight on many different diets, then gain it back when they get off the diet without modifying their lifestyles.

While I thought the show was informative, I think that for many people, the problem is more complicated than finding the right combination of foods to eat - it's finding out why we turn to food to fill us up.

Knowing the right thing to do, and doing it, are two different things. What about those people for whom certain foods are a drug, who use food to self-medicate? Instead of alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs, they use food to alter their mood. Why do some people resist overeating, and others don't? I don't think it's just willpower, although I'm sure many would say it is. Are certain foods just addictive, just like alcohol and cigarettes and other drugs? I have read that in some cases at least, it has to do with chemicals in the brain - just as it does with other mood-altering drugs.

A subject for another show?

Harwich, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Great job. I was impressed with the fact that you addressed the problem of dieting and that it doesn't work. No other program thus far (that I have seen) stated it so well. I have a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry and a minor in exercise physiology and I teach nutrition to health professionals. We are losing the war against obesity because of these crazy diets. I would like to add one more important piece of information. Research from Tufts Univ., Cooper Institute, (and other organizations including the American College of Sports Medicine) indicate that BMI is only one variable in determining disease risk. A more important variable is percent body fat. A beach ball and a hard ball can weigh the exact same amount (6 grams); the scale does not differentiate between muscle and fat. Muscle utilizes lots of calories, while fat utilizes very few. If you begin to add a few resistance exercises to your program, you will build muscle which will allow your body to utilize more calories. Individuals with greater amounts of muscle have a much easier time keeping the weight off. Personally, I now eat 600 calories more than several years ago because I have more muscle (at the same weight). This fact

alone makes it much easier to keep the weight off.

Jane Pentz
Boston, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Absolutely informing program! You get the feeling we are at the beggining or end of something very big. I am a 40 year old person this year and have literally seen the changes in how people eat and look. Nutrition was very much a part of my chilhood. My father was up at least 5 of the 7 days making breakfast for 8 children. I have one child and fight with him on a daily basis about the importance of breakfast. WaWa (local convenience store) has become the breakfast,lunch and dinner table for too many Americans.

As with everything, Education is going to have to be what leads the population to an understanding...but where do we fit this in?...as stated in the program, most children are not as active as children only two decades earlier...information technology has changed that.......i will continue to "fight" with my child on the importance of good nutrition..and perhaps as it was with me, my child will be conscious as a young adult and future parent to know these decisions have lasting affects.

marmora , nj

Dear FRONTLINE,

Diet wars, was a very interesting program. I am morbidly obese but I am changing my BMI through diet and exercise. The truth I have found is, you have to find a plan that fits your own preference. I have tried many different diets and the low carb aproach is the only one that I feel I can stick to for the rest of my life. I feel blessed that I have not developed diabetes and I think I have derailed the train heading in that direction. Also my doctor called me with my cholesterol results and they show significant improvement. In 2 months my total cholesterol went from 232 to 165 and my triglycerides went from 269 to 128. I read Atkins but I was a little skeptical until I saw the proof in my own blood work. I am not saying this lifestyle is for everyone but it is certainly working for me.

Thanks again pbs for your informative programing!

Bonnie LeMay
Sparks, NV

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline,

I was very disappointed in your program "Diet Wars." I learned nothing. Anyone moderately informed about nutrition and diets would have already known everything discussed.

I'm used to hard hitting, deep investigation from Frontline.

Things you should have asked:

Why does metabolism slow with age and how is this related to various hormone levels? Why does the body seem to have a set point? Why are the last five to ten pounds so much harder to lose? What's on the horizon in the pharmaceutical industry to deal with weight problems? Has depletion of our soils resulted in a reduction of nutritional content in our foods? Do we therefore eat more? What about the nutritional content of ubiquitous frankenfoods: genetically modified corn and soy beans? Does weight loss involve the emptying of fat cells but they still remain in the body ready to be filled again. When I was younger I exercised less and ate more. Why was I thinner? I read that nuts have a factor in them that help prevent weight gain. What is that substance?

In other words, you wasted too much time on well known issues and didn't really delve.

James Hober
Los Angeles, CA

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posted april 8, 2004

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