Fat is funny, right? John Candy, John Belushi, Rodney Dangerfield, John Goodman—all funny fat guys.
Fat is one area where Mississippi consistently ranks No. 1. But being fat isn't funny. We're not talking here about five pounds; we're talking about people with a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or more, which translates to about 30 pounds above your ideal weight. Those who carry an extra 100 pounds or so are called morbidly obese, and beyond that, we find the super obese.
Obesity is a contributing cause for life-threatening health conditions ranging from diabetes to cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. Some types of cancer are exacerbated by obesity, as are gallstones, gout, sleep apnea and osteoarthritis, especially in knees, hips and lower back.
Generally, the cause of obesity is simple: People consume more calories than they burn off. Specifically, though, the causes can include genetics, metabolic rate, lifestyle and even psychological makeup.
Depression can contribute to weight gain, for example. Treatment for obesity must take the whole person into account. From counseling, support and exercise geared to the obese, physicians who specialize in obesity, or bariatrics, know that only limiting a person's calories is rarely successful and even less so over the long run.
'The Whole Person'
Barbara Broadwater and Rita Redd founded the Mississippi Against Obesity Foundation, Weight-loss Program and Fitness Clinic (2219 Greenway Drive, 601-983-7494) in 2007. The foundation offers low-income obese people a resource where they can lose weight through exercise, diet and lifestyle change. The fitness clinic consists of three 12-week weight-loss programs.
"Many of these clients have special physical and emotional needs, and they don't feel comfortable in a gym atmosphere," Broadwater says. "We treat the whole person and offer an individual program."
Dr. Timothy Quinn, a Jackson family physician, says that he has seen his patients control medical conditions through lifestyle changes and weight loss alone. "It's a success story," he says of patients who have lowered their risks of weight-related illnesses.
Dr. George Russell notes that surgery presents difficulties for the obese. An orthopedic trauma surgeon at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and a recovering "big fellow" himself, Russell has a special interest in the effects of obesity in trauma patients. He is looking for more alternatives for people who are literally wearing away the fabric of what keeps them vertical and mobile.
"Many of these new study findings arm heavier patients undergoing joint replacement with information on what can be expected during the pre-operative and post-operative process," he says.
Mississippi became the state with the highest rate of childhood obesity in 2009, with 40 percent of our kids overweight or obese. Researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi report overweight children have an 80 percent probability to become overweight adults. They recommend "encouraging healthy behavior in children because the habit of health awareness will continue to adulthood."
In 2007, Gov. Haley Barbour established a task force led by the State Department of Education's Office of Healthy Schools. Its purpose is to raise awareness, encourage better health and provide healthier environments for kids. The task force receives funding through a national program, Preventing Obesity With Every Resource, or POWER.
In addition, a number of federal grants are available to combat obesity in schools, promoting healthy lifestyles and food choices, promoting physical activity, increasing the number of school-based nurses and supporting fitness testing.
Along with the work of national and state initiatives, private and academic organizations are also working to reduce obesity in Mississippi. These include the Bower Foundation and Team Mississippi: A Partnership for Healthy Families.
Small Changes, Big Rewards
Making small changes can make a big difference in the fight against obesity.
• Before you begin, see your doctor. Come prepared with a list of questions such as: Could my weight be caused by a medical condition or a medication I'm taking? (Visit http://www.tinyurl.com/3cxfr9c for more.) Ask him or her to recommend resources and help you make a weight-loss and life-style plan.
• Set realistic goals. You set yourself up for failure if you don't have goals or if those goals are unrealistic. Losing 5 pounds a month is realistic; losing 100 pounds by September is not.
• Get active. If you're sedentary, adding 10 minutes of exercise a day can start to make a difference. When you're somewhat active, add 10 minutes more every week or every day to lose weight.
• Use your feet. Walking is the simplest and cheapest form of exercise. Look for opportunities to take the stairs, to park at the far end of the lot, or walk instead of drive whenever you can.
• When you eat, eat. If you eat while watching TV, reading or working, you're not paying attention to your food. Slow down and give your full attention to every bite. Learn to recognize when you're full, and you'll eat less.
• Use a smaller plate. A small plate full of food can trick the eye (and the stomach) so you eat less.
• Get support. Programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are successful because they create support groups. You don't need to pay for support, but when you're discouraged, talking with someone who understands can make all the difference.