Monday, October 22nd, 2007 11:01:36

Chewing the fat about Sea World

Last week, our family visited Sea World. Friends of ours had gone the week before and warned us about the hot weather and the crowds. They were correct.

Our Sea World visit began with the Sky Tower, which took us on a 400-foot-high ride over the park for a bird’s-eye view. As the ride rotated slowly, vistas of Sea World and much of Orlando appeared. My husband, Jimmy, forgot that he was not a fan of heights until we were about 200 feet up. My, were his eyes big.

Next, we walked over to Shamus Happy Harbor for the “Believe” show, which proved to be amazing. The combination of black-and-white video (indicating times past) and music told the story of a boy intrigued with killer whales. In an early scene, he carved a piece of wood into the shape of a whale tail, which he then put on his necklace. Next, he was on a beach, where he spotted a killer whale in the ocean. Running to a canoe, he paddled out towards the whale, which jumped into the air as he stared in amazement.

The story then cut to today: a man wearing the same necklace is standing at the top of the bridge in a wetsuit ready to swim with the killer whales. In this story, the boy has realized his dream of doing just that.

“Believe” is about believing in dreams and having them come true.

One of the trainers, Laura Surovik, highlighted on the Shamu Web site, says, “The motivation to produce “Believe” was driven by our daily mission to achieve the impossible, .. We want to inspire that same passion in our guests.”

What a great mission, I wish them success. Many of the guests we saw might fare better if they were inspired not so much with a passion to achieve the impossible, but with a passion to exercise.

There was a distinct contrast between the trainers’ physical fitness and that of the spectators. The trainers, wearing wetsuits, are in great shape, running from side to side of the large tank during the show, diving and swimming in the tank and running up the stairs.

In comparison, the people who filled the stands appeared to be a representative sample of America, where two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese.

As we all know, becoming overweight or obese is due to an energy imbalance, more calories are consumed than expended, so diet as well as activity are important. It is a constant struggle for many, myself included.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased sharply for adults and children since the mid-1970s. Data from two National Health and Examination Studies (1976 – 1980 and 2003 – 2004) show that in adults aged 20- 74 years, the prevalence of obesity increased from 15.0% to 32.9%. Children follow this same trend with 13.9% of 2 to 5-year-olds, 18.8% of 6 to 11-year-olds, and 17.4% of 12 to 19-year-olds being overweight.

In addition, the CDC states that “being overweight or obese increases the risk of many diseases and health conditions, including high blood pressure, high levels of blood fats like cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and breathing problems and some cancers.”

Clearly we have not only a health-care crisis in our country, but a health crisis.

A recent article in the “New England Journal of Medicine” titled, The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years offered some intriguing insight. It determined that weight gain in one person appears to be associated with weight gain in that person’s friends.

The authors offered possible explanations, including the increased social acceptability of being overweight or obese. On a hopeful note, they state, “Network phenomena might be exploited to spread positive health behaviors.”

There is however some good news for those of use who live in the normal world, have normal jobs and other obligations. “The biggest impact of physical activity on improved longevity and quality of life can be achieved by almost anyone,” according to Dr. Steven Blair, an internationally recognized authority on exercise and its health benefits, and professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “If a person simply walks 10 minutes, three times a day, five days a week, then they will improve their aerobic fitness, feel better, and reduce the risk of chronic disease.”

The good news is that most people visiting Sea World probably achieved this level of activity walking around the park. The question is will they continue to be active in their every day lives?

I believe that we do in fact influence those around us, and that we should all strive to be positive role models, recognizing that we are human and have failings. We can all strive to be healthier simply by walking more and eating less. After all, it is not only good for our own health, but might be good for our friends’ health as well.