James Annesi

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Weight Loss Crusader
 
Though America may have recently shed its dubious distinction as “the world’s fattest (major) nation,” this is no time for a celebratory cupcake.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, almost one-third of adult Mexicans, or 32.8 percent, are obese compared to 31.8 of Americans. The FAO’s “The State of Food and Agriculture” report was released in early June and defines people older than 20 years of age with a body mass index of 30 or more as obese.

Emulating their neighbors to the north, according to the report, the Mexican populous has abandoned their traditional diet for processed snack foods and drinks – long the culprits of Americans’ expanding waistlines.

“We live in a very toxic environment when it comes to weight loss,” said Jim Annesi, the community health promotion research and development liaison for Kennesaw State University. “People don’t exercise, and there are fast food restaurants on every corner.”

A new addition to the faculty of the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education, Annesi is six months into a two-year trial that seeks to create a research-based protocol for sustaining weight loss.

“For years we’ve been telling people, ‘you should exercise more; you should eat healthier,’ and it has shown no results – none,” Annesi said. “Research shows that when people start an exercise program, 65 percent drop out within three to six months. If we can’t get people to stay with an exercise routine, there’s no opportunity to benefit from it.”

While a professor at Rutgers University, Annesi developed a program called “The Coach Approach,” which was subsequently published in a 1996 book entitled, “Enhancing Exercise Motivation.” The Coach Approach is an evidencebased, physical activity behavior change protocol in which wellness coaches collaborate with new and returning adult exercisers to build the behavioral skills required to maintain a regimen of regular exercise. Findings from a 16-year research program show consistent reductions of attrition in new and returning exercisers of 40 to 60 percent.

The skills taught in The Coach Approach are: self-efficacy (one’s feelings of ability); self-regulation (skills to overcome barriers); and mood regulation (depression, anxiety, energy level). Annesi has discovered exercising two times a week is enough to impact mood positively, and, following that, emotional eating.

“What we have found is it’s not the calorie burn that will determine weight loss, but the psychosocial changes will influence eating changes, and eating changes are what’s going to cause the weight loss,” he said. “We’re nurturing the transfer of these skills from The Coach Approach – self-efficacy, self-regulation and mood regulation – which are used to curb exercise dropout, to influence eating changes.”

One-hundred and fifty participants, including those at four different YMCAs in metro Atlanta, three in Cobb County, are participating in Annesi’s study.

“We’re interested in reducing the health risks associated with obesity, such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes,” Annesi said. “This is not about vanity.”

As part of his work with the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, which has trademarked The Coach Approach, Annesi also developed the “Youth Fit For Life” and “Start For Life,” programs aimed at combating childhood obesity.

“What we want to know is, can behavioral science be leveraged to be useful, and can it be done in a way that it can be widespread?” he said. “We’re looking for large-scale community health change.”

 
 
- Jennifer Hafer