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An ex-'Porkchop' leads the battle against obesity

By: Doug Snover

Nov. 18, 2006

Health news for baby boomers isn’t often cheery. Now comes a National Cancer Institute study that concludes being even a little overweight at age 50 can be deadly.

That paunch that defined success for our parents is killing us, it seems.

The endless studies and debate on weight and “body mass index” are old news to Dr. Scott Rigden.

Rigden, a long-time family practice and bariatric physician, has an office on Ray Road, just east of the Loop 101 freeway where a hefty number of his patients are, well, hefty.

To look at him, you wouldn’t think Rigden understands the problems of being overweight at all: He stands about 5-foot-11 and weighs a svelte 165 pounds. That puts him well into the “healthy” portion of his own Body Mass Index chart for adults.

But Rigden has experienced the problems of obesity first-hand. “Porkchops” was his nickname in high school, when he says he weighed well above 230 pounds, or about 65 pounds more than he weighs today.

“That changes you when you are called ‘Porkchops’ for a few years, even though you laugh it off; you try to be a good sport and not let it get to you,” Rigden, now 58, remembers.

His parents and grandparents were overweight, too.

“As I started going through medical training, I started putting two and two together.”

What soon-to-be Doctor Rigden realized was this: A person’s genes alone are not the determining factor of his or her weight.

“You don’t have to go down the same path” as your parents and grandparents.

So for 30 years, Rigden has maintained his own weight and helped others struggling with theirs. For more on his practice, visit

But back to that frightening National Cancer Institute study that was released last month. The long and short of it is this: NCI researchers concluded that even healthy, non-smokers have a 20% to 40% increase in the risk of death if they are overweight at age 50.

That’s just “overweight,” not “obese.” Or, in terms of body mass, 25-29 on the BMI chart.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a web page -- -- on Body Mass Index with link to a handy adult BMI calculator for those who want to discover their own BMI number.

For example, a 5 foot 4 inch  adult man or woman who weighs 145-174 pounds is considered “overweight” on the BMI chart. Anything more than 174 pounds is “obese” on the BMI scale. An adult who stands 5 foot 10 inches is “overweight” at 175-209 pounds and “obese” if his or her weight tops 210 pounds.

Of course, there are adjustments for more muscular types and older adults who might actually have lost muscle mass.

But Ridgen says of the BMI scale, “in general, it holds.”

Based on the NCI study, then, a 5-foot 8-inch adult man or woman who weighs more than 165 pounds is risking his or her life.

Ridgen doesn’t dispute the NCI study, but he’s not pressing the panic button for all of his patients who are in the BMI’s “overweight” category. He’s more concerned about getting them down and out of the “obese” range.

He likens his approach to putting out wildfires.

“While I think that (NCI) study probably has some validity, it’s sort of like you’re putting out these huge fires and somebody’s pointing at a little brush fire,” he said.

“My first goal is just to get (patients) out of the high risk. If we can do that …” his voice tails off. “I’m a pragmatist – that’s hard.”

“We have so many major problems,” Rigden sighed, then hastened to add: “(But) I’m not saying we’re ignoring the minor problems.”

“Take it seriously, even though you look pretty good,” he counsels the merely paunchy or barely “overweight.”

So what does Rigden recommend to boomers who discover the shadow of death in their own overweight form?

For people in the borderline “overweight” category, the targets of the NCI study, he suggests a better diet (five servings daily of vegetables and fruits, for example) and moderate aerobic exercise.

“We’re a sedentary generation, certainly compared to our grandparents,” he said.

“If you don’t think you’re too sedentary, buy a pedometer. A pedometer is a good tool for baby boomers.”

The goal, he says, 10,000 steps each day, or about two miles.


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