Keeping Weight Off with America on the Move

Interview with Co-Founder James O. Hill, Ph.D.

10000 Steps on a Pedometer
10000 Steps. Mark Harmel / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Are pedometers really helping people prevent weight gain? I caught up with James O. Hill, Ph.D., obesity researcher and author of "The Step Diet." He is a co-founder of America on the Move, a free online pedometer walking program that has over 1.3 million people stepping through STEPtember and millions more using their free online tools to move more and improve their eating habits.

What results can you report on motivating people to exercise and make diet changes?

America On the Move's research has found that weight gain can be prevented among 90% of adults by modifying energy balance by just 100 calories a day. People who register for America On the Move and commit to making small lifestyle changes report success in increasing physical activity and in preventing weight gain.

The philosophy of America On the Move -- making small, incremental changes in diet and activity -- ties in well with a non-diet approach to combating obesity. Have your studies found it to be successful?

Yes. What we have found is that for many Americans, dieting simply does not work. It's not just about losing weight; it's about maintaining a healthy weight. People go on diets, lose weight -– and then they gain it all back, and sometimes more. It's a vicious cycle. Dieting alone is not enough. Deprivation is not a long-term strategy. And physical activity must be part of the solution.

In teaching people how to make small, simple changes in their food choices and physical activity, they can succeed. And when they do, they are motivated to do even more to improve their overall health.

We published a paper in Pediatrics last year where we examined the small changes approach in families with overweight kids.

We found the small changes reduced weight gain in the kids, allowing them to grow into a healthier weight.

Are Americans are giving up on diets? Are they deciding it is OK to be fit but fat?

Many people have tried all of the fad diets. They may have lost some weight but they regained it and some have now decided that dieting isn't for them. America On the Move provides an alternative that isn't dieting but is about making smarter lifestyle choices. You may not have lost those 50 pounds but you will probably get to a healthier weight and one you can maintain forever.

The point here is to make the appropriate lifestyle changes –- eat smarter and become more physically active. This will both help your fitness and help you lose a little weight. You may not get to your ideal weight but you will be healthier and fitter. Bottom line is that whatever your weight being fitter is better and whatever your fitness, not being overweight or obese is better.

Pedometers have ridden a wave of popularity, in part due to your research and projects. Is this trend continuing, or are they a passing fad?

We have seen steady interest in pedometer use since the creation of America On the Move in 2003 and we believe that interest will continue. In fact, a study by Stanford University found that pedometer users took almost 2,500 more steps per day than people who did not use a pedometer. Similarly, pedometer use was associated with weight loss and improvements in blood pressure. This was good news for those of us promoting daily pedometer use.
Study Finds Pedometers Work for Weight Loss

Will high gas prices finally lead to more people walking and biking ?

We absolutely hope so. No diet on the planet can match the unnaturally low levels of inactivity we’re seeing today in the U.S. We simply must get our nation moving again. The high gas prices and the green movement are getting people back on their feet. Doing so is not only going to improve individual health, but it will improve our overall environment. My fear, however, is that if gas prices come down again, walking will also go down.

In tough economic times, will the public exercise even less or will they find inexpensive ways to stay active?

I think Americans are resourceful and will find inexpensive ways to stay fit. But we need to help create an environment to make it easier for people to make healthy decisions. America On the Move is actually taking this opportunity to demonstrate how easy it is to do just that. Adding steps to our day, sneaking in a few steps here and there, is a great way to live more healthfully. And by making smart food choices, we can cut calories and make a big difference. America on the Move's STEPtember campaign, which is a month-long effort to teach Americans how easy it is to make small changes in food choices and activity levels, is a great way to get started on living a healthier way of life -– for FREE.

People are probably joining gyms less but walking more. Overall this is probably an improvement for their health.


James O. Hill, Ph.D. interview, 9/23/08.

Susan J. Rodearmel, Holly R. Wyatt, Nanette Stroebele, Sheila M. Smith, Lorraine G. Ogden, and James O. Hill. "Small Changes in Dietary Sugar and Physical Activity as an Approach to Preventing Excessive Weight Gain: The America on the Move Family Study." Pediatrics, Oct 2007; 120: e869 - e879.

Dena M. Bravata; Crystal Smith-Spangler; Vandana Sundaram; Allison L. Gienger; Nancy Lin; Robyn Lewis; Christopher D. Stave; Ingram Olkin; John R. Sirard. "Use of Pedometer Associated With Increased Physical Activity, Decreased Blood Pressure and Weight." JAMA. 2007;298(19):2296-2304.

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