By the time Joe LaLonde grinds through his latest — and most drastic — weight-loss ordeal, he figures "I'll probably have almost cut myself in half."
A retired physical-education teacher in upstate New York, LaLonde began packing on extra heft in his 30s. By early this year, the 56-year-old had ballooned to 336 pounds. Acute pain in his knees kept him awake for hours and a trio of drugs was needed to control his blood pressure.
Since undergoing gastric-bypass surgery in March, the 5-foot-9 LaLonde is eating far less, walking 30 minutes a day and rapidly shedding fat. Already at 220 pounds, he hopes to slim down by year-end to 175 pounds — and do his bit to ease New York's cellulite crisis.
"What a New Year's present that would be for myself," he says.
Two-thirds of adults in America — and nearly one-third of children and teenagers — are obese or overweight, according to an annual obesity report released Thursday by two public health groups.
The latest survey ranks New York 41st on a state-by-state obesity list, improving from a tie for 36th last year. The number of obese adults in New York has edged down to 24.7 percent of the population from 25.1 percent.
Thirty-eight states now have obesity rates above 25 percent. In 1995, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent.
In New York, the combined obesity and overweight rate is 60.6 percent, up from 54.1 percent in 2001, the survey found. The diabetes rate has risen to 8.7 percent from 4.7 percent in 1995 and the hypertension rate to 27.1 percent from 22 percent.
While there are glimmers of stabilization, Dr. Bill O'Malley views the fatness trend in New York as decidedly bleak.
"As a policy, I'm not sure how we can affect this," O'Malley says. "People are free to make food choices as they are with other choices."
U.S. doctors now perform more than 200,000 obesity surgeries a year — 10,000-plus in New York — at an estimated cost of $3 billion to $5 billion. O'Malley has done 5,000 in 15 years.
"We're really getting a fraction of 1 percent of people who would be eligible for these types of procedures," he says. "Surgery amplifies the efforts of people trying to lose weight and keep it off. It's not magic. It'll take good behaviors, amplify them and give people a result they couldn't otherwise achieve without extreme difficulty."
Among the benefits of surgery are reductions in diabetes symptoms, blood pressure and sleep apnea.
A father of three, LaLonde described his surgery at Highland as a cinch after years of trying diet and exercise programs that helped him shed as much as 60 pounds at a time — only for him to add as much as double the weight loss when he veered off the regimen.
This time, the change feels far more permanent.
"I sleep more comfortably," he says. "I've gotten off one blood pressure medication, another one is cut in half. My waist size was 52 and I just bought size-38 trousers. I could eat a steak for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner. Now I'm lucky if I can eat 2 or 3 ounces of meat at one time.
"Surgery may scare the hell out of some people, but maybe that's what we've got to do if we want to stay alive. It all comes back to better nutrition, a little more exercise."