April 22, 2003
CDC study means obese Mississippians at higher risk for long-term illness, disability
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—On the heels of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that named Jackson as the third most obese city in the nation, dieticians at Methodist Rehabilitation Center are cautioning the public that obesity is a risk factor that causes long-term illness, disability and even death.
“I fear that a lot of people don’t take these ratings seriously,” said Dean Morrison, a licensed and registered dietician at Methodist Rehab. “But being overweight or obese is one of the main risk factors for stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. It’s a very serious problem.”
Nationally, about 300,000 deaths every year are caused by chronic diseases associated with obesity. Morrison and Linda Peddicord, another licensed and registered dietician at the Jackson hospital, treat more than 2,000 patients each year, many of whom have suffered from a serious condition as a result of their weight.
If you’ve had a stroke or heart attack, you’re more likely to have another,” Peddicord said. “That’s another reason people have to learn to take care of themselves.”
Obesity has risen at an epidemic rate over the last 20 years, according to the CDC. The CDC defines obesity as an excessively high amount of body fat or loose tissue in relation to lean body mass. Excessive fat can be found in different places on the body, but upper and central body fat can be more dangerous because it leads to heart problems.
To determine obesity, CDC researchers calculate the body-mass index – a height-weight ratio. A BMI of at least 30 is considered obese and 25 is considered overweight.
There’s no one particular cause for obesity, Morrison says. “There are a lot of factors, but mainly we see peer pressure and cultural factors – such as socio-economic status – contributing.”
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.
Morrison and Peddicord advise the following ways to combat weight gain:
- Engage in regular exercise
- Reduce time spent watching TV and other sedentary behaviors. Take a walk
- Eat only when you’re hungry and eat only until you’re satisfied, not beyond
- Increase your knowledge of the calorie content of food and how many calories you burn
- Avoid fad diets and make a lifelong commitment to eating right
“Ninety percent of the people who lose weight, gain it back,” he said. “The 10 percent who keep it off do it because they exercise and have changed their lifestyle.”
The bulk of the data for the CDC study came from 185,000 phone interviews conducted in 55 cities and collected by state CDC offices. Interviewers asked questions about everything from how much fruit and vegetables one eats to what lingering effects does one feel from Sept. 11.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the five fattest major cities in America are:
- San Antonio, Texas
- Gary, Ind.
- Jackson, Miss.
- Fort Wayne, Ind.
- Shreveport-Bossier, La.