Obesity brings on a variety of health issues

Tue 12 Mar 2013 01:54:17 | 1 comments

My brother avoided the draft by gaining weight. This was in the 1960s. He was, and is, a pacifist. Not officially a conscientious objector, but he certainly did not want to go and fight in Vietnam. Somehow, he learned what the weight limit was for his height and gained the necessary pounds so that the Army would reject him.

This could not have been very difficult. Those were the days when he would make himself a dozen scrambled eggs to eat at one sitting. A time when he and his buddies would go to Dunkin’ Donuts and ask for one of each.

My favorite story was when he went to have dinner with a friend’s family. His friend’s mother passed to him the pot roast and he ate it all, not realizing that it was supposed to feed the whole family. Not surprisingly, in those days my mother put a lock on the refrigerator out in the garage. She did not want him to eat in the afternoon what she had prepared for the family’s dinner.

Unfortunately, Bruce never lost his love for food as he matured. Nor did he lose his excess weight. When he married a beautiful Russian woman who loved to cook like he did, it only made matters worse. Together they watch the Food Channel lying down in bed.

I am not sure what he weighs now, probably more than 300 pounds. But I do know that the excess weight is endangering his life.

The Centers for Disease Control define overweight as a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher; obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher. Okay, my brother is obese. This puts him at risk for diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, cancer, osteoarthritis and sleep apnea, among other scary-sounding diseases.

My brother knows he has sleep apnea, for which he uses a breathing machine at night, and hypertension, for which he takes blood pressure medication. He also knows that his body aches all the time. Muscular issues have kept him from exercising for many years, which, of course, only worsens his obesity.

Because of all his aches and pains, which he knows can mostly be attributed to his weight, he doesn’t go to a doctor very often. What’s the point? he asks. The doctor will tell him he should lose weight. And he has tried. He subscribed, at least for awhile, to one of the diets that are hawked on television. He bought a treadmill, which sits unused in his living room.

But there are other hidden dangers that the doctors and websites don’t talk about. Because he just suffers his aches and pains without getting diagnoses and treatment, problems can escalate. Recently he was taken to the emergency room in the middle of the night because the pain became too much to bear.

It turned out that he had a large kidney stone, which the doctors couldn’t, at first, remove because an infection had developed all around it. So, for about five days, he was in intensive care, on a ventilator and heavy antibiotics and extra liquids. His body puffed up even more. His wife took a photo, which she plans to show him after he is better, to scare him into taking care of himself.

Perhaps the whole experience – he’s still in the hospital as I write this – will frighten him to finally start a real diet and some light exercise.

I can’t say I’m very optimistic. According to physicians, obesity can also cause psychological effects including depression and self-esteem issues. Bruce has both, which means he doesn’t feel very motivated to change his behaviors. Turning 65 recently doesn’t help him.

What he doesn’t understand is that today’s 65 is the last generation’s 45. He’s not that old. He has time to change his eating habits and exercise more, and finally lose all that excess weight. But will he? I don’t know.

Jan Jaben-Eilon is a long-time journalist who has written for The New York Times, Business Week, the International Herald Tribune, the Jerusalem Report and Womenetics. She was a founding reporter for the Atlanta Business Chronicle and was international editor for Advertising Age before she fulfilled a lifelong dream of moving to Israel. Jan and her Jerusalem-born husband have an apartment in that city, but live in Atlanta.


In November 2006, she was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer and has kept a blog on her cancer journey since December of that year. 

Read more columns by Jan Jaben Eilon here

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