• Weight loss organization gaining momentum
     | February 13,2014

    BARRE — Four hundred twenty-five tons, or roughly the weight of a fully loaded typical 747 jet. That’s the combined amount of weight members of TOPS Club lost in 2012.

    TOPS (for Take off Pounds Sensibly) is an organization committed to helping its members lose weight. It says it doesn’t adhere to the idea of shedding pounds by taking a pill or with extreme dieting. Instead, it advocates letting its members find their own avenues to weight loss, including choosing a meal plan that fits them, and coordinating that plan with their doctor. The organization says members also have access to experts in the fields of medical research, nutrition, fitness and psychology.

    “I think one of the biggest ways TOPS helps is by providing the support and encouragement that allows each member to empower themselves,” TOPS Vermont coordinator Karen Macedo said in an interview via email. “We focus on making lifestyle changes that will last long term, instead of just focusing on the dieting.”

    TOPS has 150,000 members belonging to 9,000 chapters throughout the U.S. and Canada. It charges $28 annually in the U.S. as well as fees for each individual chapter, which come out to less than $5 a month.

    According to Macedo, Vermont has 38 chapters, including one in Barre. She said that those interested in joining can visit www.tops.org and put in their ZIP code to find the closest chapter.

    “My hope is that TOPS can become more widely known and recognized as a good, lower-cost option for those that struggle with weight loss,” Macedo said. “It is a tool that has helped many people achieve their goals of becoming healthier and maintaining healthier lifestyles.”

    While each TOPS chapter may have slight variations in activities, they’re all primarily the same, according to Macedo. She said the TOPS chapters of Vermont usually have around two statewide events each year.

    “One is held in the spring to recognize weight loss success from the previous calendar year and celebrate with those who have reached their goal weight,” she said. “The other event is held in the fall and provides additional motivation to keep us on the right track through the holiday season.”

    According to Macedo, a typical TOPS meeting lasts around an hour and begins with a private weigh-in for each member. Then the members gather and discuss the challenges they have faced with weight loss as well as successes and goals. The meeting devotes time to discussing ways to achieve health and wellness.

    “Awards to recognize successes may be given either before or after the brief program,” Macedo said. “There may also be a brief business meeting before the meeting draws to a close. The meetings then close with an inspirational thought for the week or an inspirational activity.”

    Obesity is one of the major health issues facing the U.S. According to the American Heart Association, as of 2013, roughly 24 million children and teens ages 2 to 19 and 154.7 million adults were obese or overweight. The organization estimates that if obesity rates continue to climb, health care costs for weight-related problems could reach from $861 billion to $957 billion by 2030. U.S. obesity rates trail only Mexico’s for highest in the world.

    “Weight loss and healthy lifestyles are definitely getting more and more attention,” Macedo said. “Weight loss and dieting are now multibillion-dollar industries. We all know that obesity increases the risk for many serious health conditions. That being said, I think we may see health insurance companies providing financial incentives to people who adopt healthier lifestyles and maintain an ideal (body mass index). Much as we did with some companies providing incentives to smokers who quit.”

    Vermont is doing better than most states in combating obesity. According to a report released in August by the organization Trust for America’s Health, Vermont was the sixth least obese state in the country. However, the adult obesity rate is still 23.7 percent.

    TOPS says it has 21,000 members who have reached their weight goals and are now working to maintain their weight. The TOPS organization was founded in 1948 and has its headquarters in Milwaukee.

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