“How many of you know your waist and hip size?”

Some women grumble. A few put their hands up, weakly.

“How many of you had your doctor measure your waist during your last doctor’s visit?”

At this prospect, the women out and out giggle.

“As it turns out,” Savard continues, slowing down to be sure that the women are paying attention to what she’s about to say, “In all seriousness, the tape measure is the most powerful tool that your doctor has to predict your future health risks, even more powerful than your blood pressure, your cholesterol, even more important than all those fancy new tests you hear about, than your family history.” She pauses. “What does this mean? Why aren’t more people talking about this?”

In Apples and Pears, Savard doesn’t claim to break new ground. Before it was published, researchers knew that belly fat was linked with heart disease. The book’s reference section lists 33 pages of related studies. But Savard is the first person to compile all of the data and put them together in a way that makes sense to every woman, whether she’s a corporate executive in Manhattan or a stay-at-home mom in Duluth. Ever since 1997, when Savard began to shift her career from running a private practice to educating and writing, her work has been all about teaching people to become active agents in their own healthcare. Her 2000 book, How To Save Your Own Life: The Savard System for Managing and Controlling Your Healthcare, focused on patient empowerment [“Alumni Profiles,” July/August 2002]. And Apples and Pears does, too—but, more specifically, it arms women with a new way to think about weight and the important role it plays in their health.

Since the book came out early this year, Savard has been on the road spreading its gospel. At her appearances at bookstores and in front of health organizations, she always gives a measuring demonstration, wrapping the tape measure around her own hips. It’s all part of her mission to shift the gist of the discussion from weight to body shape, from shame to acceptance, from aesthetic ideals to health ideals. She wants to get women talking about their bodies as shapes that they’ve inherited instead of as disloyal blobs that refuse to fit into skinny jeans.

At the root of this mission is Savard’s regret that her sister, Millie, didn’t have this research at her fingertips before she was diagnosed 12 years ago with neuropathy and adult diabetes. Whenever she sees an overweight apple-shaped woman, she sees a potential Millie. She sees some today when she looks out at the women gathered in the lunchroom. “It’s too late for my sister,” she tells them. “Once you have this disease, you can’t get rid of it. But you can prevent it.”

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©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 08/25/05

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FEATURE: Fruits and Fate