- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2001

Weighty statistics show an America increasingly filled with overweight people, leading to more cases of diabetes, coronary heart disease, colon cancer, hypertension and gallstones. An estimated 90 million adults in the United States more than half of the adult population have become overweight, according to Shape Up America.

Six years ago, this nonprofit organization began an initiative to try and stop the growing number of rotund Americans. With the help of a bevy of experts, its messages and programs have found a cyber home to cajole visitors into exercising and leading healthier lifestyles.

Shape Up America

Site address: www.shapeup.org

Creator:

Founded by former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop in 1994, Shape Up America provides science-based information on healthy weight management to consumers and health care professionals. Its Web efforts have been spearheaded by Barbara J. Moore, who assembled the team of designers and consultants to mount the site's content in 1996.

Creator quotable:

"In 1995, Shape Up America wrote an expansive 32-page colorful booklet called 'On Your Way to Fitness' to help people take simple steps toward healthy eating and increased physical activity. The organization launched a public service announcement with a toll-free number that consumers could call to get a free copy of the brochure. With all of that effort, we were able to distribute only 50,000 or 60,000 copies of the booklet over the course of that year," says Miss Moore, Shape Up America president and CEO.

"In 1996, we launched the Web site and placed the same information on the site. In the very first month, we reached more than 50,000 people with the information in 'On Your Way to Fitness.' That sold me on the idea of using the Web to provide educational information on healthy weight management."

Word from the Webwise:

A new study by researchers from Brown Medical School finds that "the Internet appears to be a viable method for delivery of structured behavioral weight-loss programs," so Shape Up America's site should be a welcome place for those looking for tools and diets to help shed some pounds.

Combining information from a team of advisers in weight management, nutrition, psychology and exercise physiology with scientific journals such as the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the Journal of Nutrition and the Journal of the American Medical Association, the site offers four free stand-alone modules "Body Fat Lab," "CYBERKitchen," "Fitness Center" and "Support" to attack the battle of the bulge.

Visitors should start with the "Body Fat Lab" to understand the relevance of the Body Mass Index in determining one's percentage of body fat and its importance to overall health. This section investigates measurement tools, explains the essentials of body fat, lists reasonable fat averages for stages of life, and offers an on-line quiz, ways to build muscle, a printable tracing chart and even a personal analysis center.

Next up, my favorite module, "CYBERKitchen," offers a menu-driven way to control eating through counting calories and meal planning. First, visitors fill out simple forms to determine how many calories they need to maintain their current weight and what number is needed to lose or gain up to a pound a week. A list of meals ranging from whole wheat banana pancakes for breakfast to a turkey meatloaf sandwich for lunch is then given to visitors for their choices.

Calories are counted, and once final selections are made, recipes and a shopping list can be printed out each day.

The two-part attack to losing weight also includes exercise, and the "Fitness Center" will help tone muscles and burn fat with a wide range of suggestions and information. After about 30 minutes of filling out forms to determine the best course of exercise, visitors can peruse a glossary of terms, learn how the smallest changes in lifestyle can burn calories (such as using the stairs or avoiding remote controls), take a physical activity test, learn what to eat to maximize a workout and explore excuses why folks will not exercise.

Finally, the "Support" module gives dieters help with staying on course through motivational stories, a "food and activity log" to chart progress and links to message boards to talk to peers in similar situations.

Additionally, a fee-based "Shape Up and Drop 10" module is available and offers managed weight loss through 24-hour support lines and extensive meal and exercise planners for an average cost of $10 a week.

Ease of use:

Shape Up America translates well within the Internet arena, but a few problems might annoy visitors. On too many pages, links back to the site's opening page give a "server cannot be found message." Also, in one area of the "Fitness Center," a frames nightmare happens when a visitor tries to leave the area. Pages open but never quite fit into the rigid framework provided by the site.

Despite these minor annoyances, the site utilizes enough on-line activities and practical advice to keep an audience excited about getting into shape.

Don't miss: Visitors can learn the body mass index of each U.S. president by visiting the "Just for Fun" section of the "Body Fat Lab." Now I know that William Howard Taft had a BMI of 45 and Andrew Jackson checked in around 18. Visitors also get a percent of body fat estimate for each commander-in-chief, as well as his term of office and health risk assessment.

Overall grade: B

Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).


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