David Zinczenko co-wrote the book series Eat This, Not That! Photo courtesy Rodale Books
Richmond has developed a weighty reputation, ranking second last year in The Daily Beast/Newsweek's list of the fattest U.S. cities. The proportion of obese adults in the city is higher, at 29 percent, than the statewide figure of 26 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"In 2030, if we continue on the track we're going, [Virginia's] obesity rate will almost double to almost 50 percent," says Heidi Hertz, obesity prevention coordinator with the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth. "We have a lot of work to do."
The work starts locally, with changes to what is served in the school cafeteria and at the dinner table. "It really comes down to an issue of knowledge," says former Men's Health magazine editor-in-chief David Zinczenko. The national spokesman for men's health issues — and co-author of the New York Times best-selling book series Eat This, Not That! — delivered the keynote address at the third Weight of the State childhood obesity prevention conference at the Westin Richmond in April.
More than 400 Virginia physicians, health professionals and educators attended the conference that was sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth and Prevention Connections. The event addressed the rising number of overweight and obese children and adults in the commonwealth and focused on developing preventive measures to combat the rising trend.
In addition to his books, Zinczenko has a history of campaigning for healthy lifestyle choices on the legislative level. In 1994, he advocated for a measure to establish the week of Father's Day as National Men's Health Week. Before addressing the audience in April about steps that parents can take to instill healthy lifestyle habits for their children, Zinczenko talked with Richmond magazine about what dads can do in their daily lives to improve their health and the health of their children.
RM: What are the biggest contributors to the downfall of the American diet?
DZ: In a lot of cases, you have these very cheap ingredients that are creating a lot of empty calories. They're completely void of any nutritional qualities. People are taking in a ton of calories, but they're still hungry for nutrients. Portion distortion is out of control. In some cases, you could be eating four servings at your typical meal.
RM: How can Americans take realistic steps in their daily lives to combat these pitfalls?
DZ: Seek out the information. If you spend 10 minutes in the morning thinking about what you're going to wear, you can think about what you're going to eat. Planning ahead and having some control over that process is an important first step.
RM: What unhealthy habits often come up when Dad is in charge of dinner?
DZ: The prep time gets a lot shorter. It's far less precise. Portion sizes are probably bigger. There's probably less of an emphasis on balanced meals and hitting all the food groups. I think the emphasis turns toward favorite foods generally.
RM: What can dads do to establish lifelong healthy eating habits for their children?
DZ: Make it fun and give the kids choices. Try to involve the kids in food preparation. It really becomes about how you communicate it, and unfortunately a lot of the nutrition information out there is pretty dry. [When] you spend time with your kids, give them choices, involve them. Let them be the sous chef and help prepare the meal. They'll get into it.