Dear Abby:

I know you care passionately about individuals taking steps each day to improve the quality of their lives. Please help me spread the word about improving the health of millions of Americans.

Nearly two out of three Americans are overweight/obese and at risk for diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses associated with obesity. Recent studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that overweight and obesity may soon surpass tobacco as the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. People need to know that conquering weight gain is more about taking a daily walk around the neighborhood than running a marathon.

Please encourage your readers to see for themselves how small steps can lead to big health benefits. Taking the stairs instead of the escalator, substituting fruit for sweets, and eating only half portions of dessert can add up to giant steps on the path to a healthier life.

Earlier this year, we introduced a program and Web site called Healthy Lifestyles to help individuals and families make healthy choices about their diets and physical activity. The site, www.smallstep.gov, provides hundreds of simple suggested steps to get people started.

Tommy G. Thompson

Secretary

U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

You're right, mail on the subject of obesity does cross my desk. I'm pleased to promote your campaign because I want to do my part in helping my readers help themselves to longer, healthier lives.

It's interesting that you mentioned "steps" to better health, because coincidentally, I received the following a few days before your letter came:

Dear Abby:

When I hit the scale at 250-plus, my blood sugar shot up and I knew it was finally time to take action. I had read an article about walking 10,000 steps a day and decided to try it. It changed my life.

At first I couldn't walk more than 6,000 steps without hurting all over. It was discouraging, but it was my last hope, so I cut back to a more manageable number of steps and increased gradually -- by about 500 steps a week. After three months, I was finally up to 10,000 steps a day.

I lost a pant size in three months, but there were more benefits: My appetite changed. I enjoy salads, vegetables, fresh fruit, lean meat. I began to discern the difference between being full and being satisfied. I stopped craving food between meals.

It has now been a year, and I have lost more than 40 pounds and increased to 11,000 steps a day. My blood sugar and blood pressure have normalized.

Please, Abby, encourage your readers to check out a 10,000-step program. Information is readily available on the Internet -- just type "10,000 steps" into your browser. The only cost is a good pair of walking shoes and a pedometer.

Leaner and Healthier in New York

Congratulations for your progress and thanks for sharing your secret. When it comes to exercise, sometimes the hardest step to take is that first one.

Now, I have a favor to ask of Secretary Thompson. Please do Americans a favor and issue government guidelines about what "low carb" means. Too many people are bingeing on "low-carb" products in the belief they can eat unlimited amounts and still lose weight. Some of those products contain more carbs in one serving than a dieter should consume in an entire day, and too much fat as well.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.

(c)2004, Universal Press Syndicate