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We ought to call it Fatten Island

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Staten Island is the fattest borough in the city -- and more men than women here admit they are obese, bucking citywide trend
Sunday, October 15, 2006

Deborah Manti's husband maintained a fit physique through all his years as a firefighter. Then he retired, and his body began to change. Now his weight fluctuates -- up in some seasons, down in others.

"I just told him the other day, 'You gotta stop. You can eat a whole cake in two days,'" Mrs. Manti sighed. "I just think it's boredom."

If heaviness is a sign of boredom, then Staten Island men need some entertainment.

Blame any of the usual male stereotypes: The hours spent watching sports while inhaling pizza and quaffing beers; the appetite for big bowls of pasta; the long commutes to stressful, sedentary jobs. Whatever the reason, Staten Island men are more likely to be obese than their female counterparts, suggest data from the city Health Department.

That's not to say that the Island's female population doesn't share in the problem. They are partly to blame for Staten Island's dubious distinction as the city's fattest borough in 2004 -- at least statistically -- with an obesity rate of 26.6 percent among adults surveyed. Questioners asked about people's body mass index (BMI), a measure derived from a person's height and weight.

Yet the Island's men consistently have outpaced women in this category in recent years.

Almost one in three Staten Island men, or 30.8 percent, reported himself as obese in a 2004 city Health Department survey, as compared to fewer than one in four Island women, or 22.6 percent.

Citywide, the case was reversed, with almost one in five men reporting himself as obese as compared with almost one in four women.

"You definitely see more overweight men than women -- without a doubt," said Salvatore Pollina of Bay Terrace.

Pollina, who has been married for 20 years and has two young children, recently dropped 50 pounds after experiencing medical problems such as high blood-sugar levels and high blood pressure. He believes that he and his contemporaries, between the ages of 30 and 45, probably indulge their appetites more than they should, as opposed to women, who feel pressure to maintain a svelte figure.

"I think most of the overweight people that I see are ethnic Italians, like me, who like our food very much," Pollina said. When he was growing up, he added, food was an event, with multiple courses and plentiful servings.

City health officials cautioned that the statistics were imprecise and therefore unreliable. But the borough's statistics have remained consistent in recent years. Staten Island men had a greater chance of being obese than women in city health surveys conducted in 2002 and 2003. In both of those years, the city's other boroughs noted the opposite trend, with more women reporting themselves as substantially overweight as compared to men.

The difference between Staten Island and the other four boroughs may come down to race and ethnicity: The Island has a significantly higher percent of white people than the other boroughs.

"If you break it down by race and ethnicity, white women are less likely to be obese than white men," said Gretchen Van Wye, the city Health Department's director of community epidemiology, citing national trends. "Black and Hispanic women are more likely to be obese than men."

Weight-loss specialists said women often respond to their weight gain more quickly than men, who are more prone to letting themselves go until they develop a weight-related medical problem.

"Most of them [men] come to me on the recommendation of a physician," said Jodi Foster, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Staten Island's Ultimate Fitness & Wellness. "Women tend to be a little different; they tend to try whatever diet that comes out. So they tend to yo-yo up and down."

After getting married, Ms. Foster said, men often become more focused on their careers, work longer hours, eat convenience food and don't make time for getting exercise.

"The women are a little more conscious than the men about their body image," said Dr. Anne Fitzpatrick, a Willowbrook chiropractor. She noted that fewer Staten Island women work than do men.

"A lot of men are commuting to Manhattan and stressed out; the women are at home and can afford to have a nice lifestyle," she said.

More than 60 percent of Island men older than 16 work as opposed to less than 50 percent of Island women, according to 2005 Census figures. Island workers spent an average of 42 minutes that year getting to work every day via car, bus and ferry.

These commutes are stressful, Ms. Fitzpatrick said, and stress is directly related to weight gain.

And then there are the portions that people get in Staten Island restaurants, which affect all residents.

"I call it portion distortion," Ms. Foster said. "The servings that you get on Staten Island are 10 to 12 servings of pasta. Most people like to feel like they're getting more for their money, and they finish it."

For Pollina, losing weight meant a complete lifestyle change. Rather than regularly indulging in an antipasti, a main course, side dishes and dessert, he eats more steamed vegetables and spends time working out.

"I think it's a lot nicer for your wife and your family," he said, referring to his two children, ages 1 and 4. "The bottom line for me was, I want to be around when they grow up."

Lisa Schneider covers health news for the Advance. She may be reached at

© 2007 Staten Island Advance

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