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Jared Takes Steps To Help Kids Fight Fat

Subway's Jared Fogle knows how painful childhood obesity can be for kids.
By John Morgan, Spotlight Health
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.

Jared is an unlikely addition to the pantheon of single-name celebrities like Madonna, Cher and Sting. But the now-famous Subway spokesman is using his fame to help kids avoid the pain and anguish of obesity that he endured growing up.

"I started my weight gain in third grade so I know what it is like to be an obese child," says Jared Fogle. "I know the physical and emotional pain these kids go through."

To help overweight and obese kids, Jared helped Subway launch its FRESH Steps campaign July 14, 2004 in the nation's capitol. FRESH stands for Feel Responsible, Energized, Satisfied and Happy.

"FRESH Steps is a way to make a difference in a positive way," Jared says. "It's a national campaign to reach kids and help them be healthier and to avoid the path I went down by raising awareness about preventing and treating childhood obesity."

Subway also became the first-ever sponsor of the American Heart Association's Jump Rope for Heart program, a school-based physical activity and nutrition program.

Jared's help comes not a moment too soon.

About 15% of kids ages 6 to17 are overweight, which is defined as a body mass index greater than the 95th percentile. And while kids are packing on the pounds now, the problem gets worse with age.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate overweight teens have an 80% chance of becoming overweight adults. Recent studies indicate that more than 60% of adults are either overweight or obese.

Like Jared once was.

"I always loved food and slowly but surely I kept gaining weight," Jared notes. "It became a vicious cycle. The more I ate the less I wanted to move. The less I moved the more I ate."

By 1998, Jared was a junior in college and morbidly obese. He couldn't even walk without being out of breath. But Jared credits his roommate and high school friend, Junyang Lou, with finally getting through to him that his weight problem was beginning to seriously jeopardize his health.

"JL was pre-med and he was the one who helped diagnosis my edema (swelling)," Jared notes. "He read to me that my edema could be an early sign of diabetes and that really woke me up. He also said I had sleep apnea and even secretly tape recorded me so I could hear what I was doing during my sleep. I was gasping for air in the middle of the night."

Miraculously, Jared did not have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. But he was beginning to have high anxiety about seeing the endocrinologist his father recommended.

Losing it

"I was so scared to go see the doctor," Jared admits. "The thing that scared me most was getting on the scale and confronting my weight, because I didn't really know what I weighed. I thought I was probably 350 pounds max, but when I found out I weighed 425 I was blown away. But not blown away enough because after the doctor's I dropped my dad off and went and pigged out."

The endocrinologist's diet didn't work for Jared so he began trying a multitude of other diets. Then he found Subway's "Seven under 6" menu. Two sandwiches without mayo or dressing every day along with diet drinks and the rest is history.

"Fast food is ironically what put the most of my weight on all those years, but it took a fast food diet in a sense to lose it," says Jared who lost 94 pounds in three months. "I didn't weigh myself early on. I wanted to see a big number come off -- something that would really inspire me. My dad was by my side when I finally weighed myself. He was in tears and he said, 'You're doing it. You're doing it.'"

Within those first three months, Jared's sweating, edema and apnea all went away. He felt better and had more energy and slowly began walking more and more. By the end of the first year, he had lost 240 pounds.

And he's kept it off for five years now.  He hopes kids will have his same success.

Subway is not only improving obesity awareness, but it also recently improved its kids pack meal. According to Jared, it now has a smaller deli round sandwich and instead of chips and soda there is now a juice box and a fruit roll-up.

"This is about taking one step at a time - we're not going to take kids who have been couch potatoes and are accustomed to eating high fat foods and get them eating perfectly right away," says Gary Foster, clinical director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "We're going to try to move them along a continuum toward better eating. It is a behavioral truism that small successes lead to big successes."

 Healthy steps

But some children's health experts believe Subway could go further.

"Juice as a source of simple carbohydrate is still loaded with sugar," says Naomi Neufeld, pediatric endocrinologist founder and medical director of Kidshape Foundation in Los Angeles. "It would be better to eat the whole fruit, because fruit roll-ups are really a form of candy. This is great for a start and I applaud Subway, but it could be better."

Neufeld does give high marks for the FRESH Steps pledge which involves parents directly in helping the entire family eat healthier.

"At Kidshape we require family involvement," states Neufeld, who is also a clinical professor of pediatrics at UCLA School of Medicine. "Kids can't be on their own in this. Subway's pledge is certainly a compliment to this concept."

Neufeld's book Kidshape: A Practical Prescription for Raising Healthy, Fit Children includes a fast food restaurant guide to help make better choices as well as numerous tips for parents on how to help their child lose weight.

"You have to limit your child's TV viewing to one hour a day and encourage physical activity," Neufeld says. "A lot of parents think their kids are getting enough exercise. Get a pedometer and find out. A physically fit child should be doing 12,000 - 15,000 steps a day. On average most kids are only taking about 3,000 steps a day."

Neufeld says the best way to get kids more active is to go on a family walk before dinner. And her program is working - after treating 10,000 families, Neufeld says 80% lose weight in the first eight weeks and they lose about 5-7 pounds. Around 87% continue to lose weight after they leave the program.

"Our goal is to build healthy families," Neufeld says. "We do it by teaching self defense against a health hostile world. I think it's fair to say Subway is taking a great stride in making it a less health hostile world."

Because overweight kids gain about 30 pounds a year, Jared agrees that kids need all the support they can get as soon as possible before weight problems spiral out of control.

"The kids are the focus, but the family also has to be supportive," Jared says. "Kids have to be personally responsible and have to want to change. They also need to realize that decisions they are making now about food can affect them for a long time - two decades in my case - and I know kids don't want to go through what I did and wear 60 inch pants."

Spotlight Health is the leading creator of celebrity-featured health-issue awareness campaigns, connecting consumers with impassioned celebrities whose personal health battles can open eyes, dispel myths and change lives. Spotlight Health helps sufferers and caregivers meet the challenges of difficult health circumstances with understandable, in-depth medical information, compassionate support and the inspiration needed to make informed healthcare choices.

Created: 7/24/2004  -  John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
Reviewed: 7/24/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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