March 31, 2004
Poor diet, lack of exercise may become deadlier than tobacco for state's obese
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—Mississippians may be digging their graves with their forks.
That’s the upshot of a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found obesity may soon overtake tobacco as the top preventable cause of death in the United States.
Health care workers say that’s bad news for Mississippi, where obesity and its ills are as common as all-you-can-eat fried catfish dinners. According to 2001 statistics compiled by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Mississippi and Alaska tied for fattest state in the nation, with an overweight/obesity rate of 61 percent.
“Our disease rates reflect that designation,” said Dr. David Collipp, a physician at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson. “Obesity increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer, all of which are leading causes of death and disability in Mississippi.
“The people I treat are the ones who survive a stroke, but have to learn to walk or talk again, or who have lost a limb to diabetes-related causes. That’s bad enough, but too many people never make it to rehab.”
According to the CDC study, deaths due to poor diet and physical inactivity accounted for more than 16 percent of all deaths in 2000, compared to 18 percent for tobacco. That’s a 33 percent rise over the last decade.
To combat the trend, the National Institutes of Health is developing a Strategic Plan for NIH Obesity Research, which will focus on:
- Behavioral and environmental approaches to modifying lifestyle
- Pharmaceutical, surgical and other medical approaches
- Breaking the link between obesity and diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer
A multi-pronged approach is needed because there’s no one cause of obesity, says Dean Morrison, a licensed and registered dietician at Methodist Rehab.
“There are a lot of factors, but here we mainly see peer pressure and cultural factors—such as socio-economic status—contributing,” he said.
In Mississippi—where poverty is an issue—people eat on a budget, Morrison said. “When you’re eating for economic reasons, you’re not necessarily eating for health reasons. Cheaper food is usually less healthy than other choices.”
The nature of local food is also a problem, says John Pelton, director of nutrition services at Methodist Rehab. “It’s that Southern cooking. It tastes great, but it’s also very fat-laden.”
People are eating out more, rather than staying home and cooking, says Pelton. “The food you get in restaurants is generally going to have more fat in it and be less healthy than something you would make for yourself at home.”
But it’s the sedentary lifestyles that are mostly to blame, Morrison says. “Changing that has to begin at an early age. We need to teach our children the importance of active lifestyles and to only eat when they’re hungry and not to overeat.
“The best way to treat obesity is to prevent it in the first place,” he said.
He advises people who want to maintain a healthy weight to:
- Engage in regular exercise
- Reduce time spent watching TV and other sedentary behaviors and stay active
- Eat only when hungry and stop when satisfied
- Study the calorie counts of foods and how much activity it takes to “burn off” certain foods
- Learn cooking techniques that reduce fat and calories without sacrificing flavor
- Avoid fad diets and make a lifelong commitment to eating right
“Ninety percent of the people who lose weight gain it back,” Morrison said. “The 10 percent who keep it off do it because they exercise and have changed their lifestyle.”