- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

MILWAUKEE (AP) — There are no complicated diets, pricey workout equipment or strict personal trainers.

Participants of Lighten Up programs in 16 states from Maine to Hawaii are learning to make healthy choices by undertaking small lifestyle changes: drinking one more glass of water daily, eating fruits and vegetables, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.

It is making a difference in Wisconsin, a state where almost 58 percent of residents were overweight or obese in 2002, and where cheese, beer and sausage are practically their own food groups.

“It’s not such a threatening thing anymore,” Sandi Tritz said of dieting and exercising since joining Lighten Up Wisconsin. “They weren’t so outlandish, like I had to run a marathon.”

More than 20,500 people nationwide are involved in some form of Lighten Up, said Nicole Mueller, director of health initiatives for the Wisconsin Sports Development Corp., a nonprofit sports management organization that runs the state’s version.

In Iowa, nearly 12,000 members lost about 23.5 tons of weight last year, or about 4 pounds per person, said Kim Nanke of Iowa Games, a nonprofit group that created the first Lighten Up program in 2002.

In Wisconsin, more than 1,700 people shed an average of 4.9 pounds midway through the five-month program.

Four to 5 pounds might not seem like much, but health specialists say even the smallest improvements count because they can boost participants’ confidence to exercise more or improve their diets.

“Starting and losing 5 pounds of weight is better than not starting and gaining 5 pounds,” said Mary Kay Sones, a health specialist with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Participants joined the Wisconsin program in teams, which turned in their collective weights in January and March. A final weigh-in next month will determine the three teams — out of 226 — that lost the most weight, earning them statewide recognition and medals.

“We never see their individual weight,” Miss Mueller said. “They don’t have to feel so pressured as individuals.”

Each week, the program offers a challenge, such as parking the car farther from the office, switching to 1 percent milk and cutting about 50 calories per cup, or using low-calorie condiments such as mustard or vinegar on sandwiches, instead of butter or mayonnaise.

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