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Kerr offers spiritual basis for combating obesity



Pioneering television gourmet Graham Kerr promotes some popular ways of managing obesity: wear a pedometer, eat more fruits and vegetables. But Kerr also brings a holistic, spiritual notion to reversing the obesity epidemic, calling on people to cut their indulgence and redirect the saved resources toward helping others.

Kerr gave a talk titled "A Lifestyle for the New Millennium" at the School of Public Health (SPH) March 31, focusing on healthy lifestyle choices and previewing his pending book, "Charting a Course to Wellness." He was in town to talk with Professor Vic Strecher about a project aimed at helping people eat more fruits and vegetables.

Many know Kerr as "The Galloping Gourmet" from the television program he produced from 1969-71. The show was broadcast in the United States and 37 other countries.

"Graham Kerr's Gathering Place," his most recent series, focuses on healthy alternatives to improve quality of life and a sense of well-being. Strecher has appeared as a guest on the show, discussing his research on tailored messages to help people change habits such as smoking.

When Kerr got his start as a television gourmet almost half a century ago, the mission was pure flavor and fun. Kerr continues to enthuse about good foods, but his calling is evangelizing about lifestyle change, brought on by the need to care for Treena, his wife of nearly 50 years.

Decades ago, Treena had a stroke and a heart attack, and Kerr accepts blame for her condition, caused by their shared love of rich food. Kerr learned to cook lower-fat, lower-calorie foods, and he began the quest of fighting obesity.
“We are killing ourselves and getting a bad reputation doing it.”—Graham Kerr

In his talk last week, he said that while Americans spend about $38 billion a year trying to lose weight, 80-90 percent of people fail. We might know we need to change our ways, but we don't, he said.

Kerr said one key is transforming indulgence into "outdulgence"—that is, cutting a habit and using the money saved to help others. Making the connection between quitting smoking or cutting down on ice cream and helping another human being gives the change a spiritual quality that makes it meaningful, he said.

While people all around the world die of malnutrition and starvation, Americans suffer from heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and other diseases of overconsumption.

"We are killing ourselves and getting a bad reputation doing it," he said.

But Kerr is not promoting deprivation. He does not call for eliminating foods, but rather cutting back to moderate portions. In the place of fatty foods, he prescribes adding more healthy ones—those that people don't often eat now because they're already full from fried, high-fat treats.

"Your picture of health can be delicious," Kerr said. "[Your favorite foods] love you as much as you love them."

While in town, Kerr also spoke to Anita Sandretto's community nutrition class at SPH, and spent time with Strecher—professor of health behavior and health education and of family medicine—about a National Cancer Institute-funded, Web-based approach to helping people boost their produce consumption.

Kerr's talk was sponsored by the SPH Nutrition Program, the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, and the SPH Department of Health Behavior and Health Education.

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