The Nation's Pulse

Obesity Goes to the Dogs

Pooch needs exercise, not a slim-fast pill. Same goes for his master.

By 1.17.07

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It's enough to make you want to arf.

Our pooches are growing paunches at an alarming rate. Five percent of the over 60 million dogs in this country are considered obese, meaning at least 20 percent over ideal weight. Almost a third more are considered overweight. So do we simply feed them less food, healthier food, or exercise them more? That might call the Humane Society down on you. Instead the FDA has approved a new liquid doggie drug from Pfizer called Slentrol (pdf) that's supposed to block fat absorption and reduce appetite. "Calm down boy! Have another tapioca treat!"

Dog obesity, and pet obesity generally, is actually part of a continuum that began in the 1970s. First we gave up on self-control, leading to the adult obesity epidemic. Then we gave up on kid control, leading to the child obesity epidemic. "Exercise" became a four-letter word and somehow "eating properly" also got reduced to one word with four letters.

Now just as we've abandoned self-control and kid-control, we've abandoned efforts to control our pets' habits. This has led to chubby Chihuahuas; fat foxhounds, pot-bellied poodles, butterball beagles, porcine pit bulls, and rotund Rottweilers. Labradors need liposuction.

Why?

"The parallels between human obesity and canine obesity are striking," John E. Bauer, a veterinarian at Texas A&M University told a reporter. "They live with us. So when we eat too much, they eat too much. When we don't exercise enough, they don't exercise enough. And when we snack between meals, they probably snack between meals."

After all, it's not like Rover is sneaking into the freezer at night and helping himself to Kibbles 'n Bits ice cream or that he's capable of going on a biscuit binge. Dogs become fat because we make them fat just as we make ourselves and our kids fat. The New England Journal of Medicine has reported that parental obesity more than doubles the risk of adult obesity among children under 10 years of age.

And having abandoned proper diet and exercise, we look for magical potions.

The FDA recently fined four different supplement sellers that make weight-loss claims as unsubstantiated as a witch's testimonial for eye of newt. Now Coca-Cola is teaming up with Nestle to offer an alleged weight-loss drink, Enviga. The medical substantiation for Enviga's wondrous properties is based on a study lasting all of three days. (Read: Worthless) No doubt people will drink Enviga to balance that monstrous 64-ounce cup of Coca-Coca Classic they just drank that had a lid to keep them from falling in.

In fact over 20 percent of our calories now come from drinks, which is stunning considering the vast cornucopia of diet drinks including one that's not only fat-free and carb-free but cost-free called "water." Try it sometime.
Vastly more of us are also resorting to bariatric surgery, which is risky and requires permanent dietary supplementation. Only8 percent of bariatric patients ultimately achieve normal weight. Yet from 1998 to 2004, the total number of these operations jumped nine-fold, from 13,386 to 121,055. Children as young as 12 are having their stomachs stapled and their bellies banded.

Further while Slentrol may help dogs, drugs have done little to help humans. It's rare to lose more than 5 percent to 10 percent of your weight with them and many people won't even take appetite-reducing medicine because, after all, it reduces their appetite!

And folks, this ain't just about looks.

In dogs, overweight causes diabetes, liver disease, and arthritis. That doesn't count all the bennies they lose from lack of exercise. In humans, "Obesity is a risk factor for many serious illnesses including heart disease, hypertension, stroke, respiratory disease, arthritis, and certain types of cancer" according to the International Obesity Task Force. It's given rise to a tremendous increase in type 2 diabetes and even causes birth defects in offspring of overweight mothers. A 2004 study from the California-based Rand Corporation found a striking increase in disability among Americans caused by the rise in obesity.

Fat also costs a fortune. "Annual U.S. obesity-attributable medical expenditures are estimated at $75 billion," a January 2004 Obesity Research study concluded. The tab is assuredly far heftier now.

So let's be clear. Over-the-counter potions don't work. Prescription medicine barely works. Surgery, reserved only for the morbidly obese, won't get you to a healthy weight. After your 15th diet book promising you can lose weight if you just eat more or less carbs, consume foods in the right combinations, or eat lots more chocolate (Seriously), you catch on that they don't work either.

So what does? I'm sorry, but there has to be an element of discipline. Repeat after me: There is NO magic! Neither are McDonald's, KFC, and Costco with its 10-pound bags of cheesy-poofs going to make it easy for you. But every calorie you keep out of your mouth and every calorie you burn off with walking or jogging or bicycling or simply parking your car in the farthest space from the store helps. You can start right now by taking Rover for a run. (Just don't forget the pooper scooper and plastic bag.)

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About the Author

Michael Fumento is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. and a nationally syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.