Mississippi rated most obese state

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 27, 2008

NATCHEZ — You kick off your shoes, you shuck extra clothing, take a deep breath and step onto the scale. It begins to move — one rotation, two rotations, three?

You have to admit it: you have a weight problem.

You’re not alone.

In a recently published study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mississippi burst through as the top state for obesity.

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Thirty-two percent of Mississippians have been calculated to have a body mass index greater than 30 percent.

Body mass index is calculated by an adult’s height and weight. Normal weight falls between a body mass index of 18.5 and 24.9 percent.

The overweight category lists a BMI between 25 and 29.9 percent.

A person is categorized as obese if their BMI is 30 percent or greater.

Dr. Deb Galuska, associate director for science in the division of nutrition, physical activity and obesity for the CDC and one of the authors of the study published in the Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report, gave an example.

“If someone was 5’9” and weighed 203 pounds, that would be an example of being obese,” Galuska said.

Alabama trails behind 30.3 percent and Tennessee with 30.1 percent.

The South as a region has the highest obesity rate with 27.3 percent compared to 26.5 percent in the Midwest, 24.4 percent in the Northeast and 23.1 percent in the West.

Galuska said while the CDC hasn’t conducted a true study as to why the South houses such obesity, the agency does have its hypotheses.

“The South tends to have more black people and we also know that in blacks, the prevalence of obesity is higher,” Galuska said.

According to the study, black women topped out at an overall obesity prevalence of 39 percent and black men at 32.1 percent.

Another hypothesis is the kinds of food consumed in the South.

“Certainly what’s contributing is behaviors — we know that across the country there are different dietary patterns,” Galuska said. “Some food in the South has higher fat and added sugar.”

Natchez psychologist Dr. Patsy Pintard said this is definitely a factor.

“I think this is extremely relevant and maybe this is my own bias, but in the South we appreciate good food more than perhaps other areas of the country do,” she said.

Also, the social, hospitable and family-oriented nature of Southerners plays into this, too, she said.

When Southerners gather, they gather around the table.

“We are food oriented,” Pintard said. “We invite guests for dinner, we don’t take them out to eat, we have family gatherings at the home, not in hotels. Our social nature in the South, our love of hospitality in the South is a big factor.”

As a nation, Natchez Pediatrician Dr. David Timm — who sees a growing trend in overweight children — said the pervasiveness of fast food giants is a large factor in why society is steadily beefing up.

“We are bombarded with advertisements for food,” he said.

And the McDonaldization of society results in poor eating habits, even at home, he said.

“There are no requirements for preparation so people are very impulsive about eating and in families that are very busy, parents have a tendency not to have time and have patience to sit down and eat meals and so they use fast food in place of that,” Timm said.

Obesity mentality

Pintard said she does not put much weight in the idea of food addiction.

“I think the food addiction myth is overplayed, I really don’t see food addiction as the problem,” Pintard said.

She said that if that were the case, there would be no solution.

“Real addiction requires total abstinence and you can’t do that with food,”

she said.

She said the true problem is simply overeating.

“I really think that because there’s so much substance abuse and sexual addiction nowadays, people want to lump overeaters into an addiction category,” she said. “But I think addiction is just a term that people use for people who overeat.”

And overeating can simply arise from a love of food, or because of moods, she said.

But sometimes people’s reaction to consuming food isn’t always to over eat.

“Some people eat more when they’re depressed some people less,” Pintard said.

However, she said she believes mental health and overeating can go hand in hand.

“I think there’s a correlation between overeating and other psychological problems like self esteem, but what comes first?” Pintard asked.

Low self esteem may cause one to overeat. Or overeating may lead to one having low self esteem.

Timm said being overweight can lead to depression.

“There is an increased risk of depression,” he said of being obese. “You have a decreased motivation of life because your energy level is down because you are literally carrying more weight around.”

Some people can overeat due to boredom, Pintard said.

“If a person lacks enough stimulation in their life, whether it’s social stimulation or intellectual stimulation, yes they may,” she said.

She said overeating is mostly a behavioral problem, but it’s been recently discovered that some people overeat due to a genetic malfunction.

“The latest research indicated that people have trouble indicating their satiety point,” she said, meaning people will eat well past feeling full even though they truly are.

The solution

Galuska said the CDC set a goal in 2000 called “Healthy People 2010” which aimed for states to have an obesity rate of 15 percent or less.

No state met this goal. In fact, the trend over the years that the study has been conducted — over 20 years — has been steadily inclining.

The jump from 2005 to 2007 was almost 2 percent, and Galuska deducted that there has been “approximately a 1 percent increase across the years.”

“It’s a fairly consistent increase,” she said.

If nothing is done to halt the trend, it’s safe to say that in less than 20 years, half of Mississippi’s population will be obese.

And diabetes will take over.

Timm said the incidence of diabetes in children has rapidly increased.

“It’s going to be a health crisis,” he said. “In my practice, I might see a child with type 1, childhood onset, insulin deficiency diabetes, but now I am starting to see twice as many cases of type II, adult onset, and insulin insensitivity in children. That was something I never saw five and six years ago and that is largely due to obesity.

“You’re talking about an illness that has significant, immediate life changing consequences.”

Nationwide, Galuska said the CDC is concerned over the obesity prevalence.

“Our goal is to start reversing the trend, to start stopping it from going up and then start moving it back down,” she said.

While the Atlanta-based institution can try to attack the problem from a national standpoint, Galuska said the dilemma can be most effectively dealt with at a local level.

“Some examples would be trying to change the environment, change sidewalks, create access for places for physical activities, changing food options,” she said.

As far as ramping up physical activity, Pintard said Southern weather can be a bit of a stumbling block.

“In the last 10 years, our summers have gotten so hot that people cannot enjoy some of the outdoor activities that we used to,” Pintard said.

While the blazing, unbearable dog days of summer used to last between only four and six weeks, she said they now stretch throughout most of the summer.

However, Pintard said being active is the best way to combat overeating.

“We say that activity is incompatible with overeating,” she said. “You cannot take a walk and eat the whole time.”

Timm emphasized wise eating choices.

“The simpler the better,” he said. “Eat a good breakfast, a good lunch and a reasonable evening meal. Snacking is bad.”

He said such dieting methods like accounting for every calorie consumed isn’t truly the mentally healthiest option.

“Types of food, calorie counting and eating good food just becomes excuses to eat more,” he said.

“What you eat and when you eat will have more success in addressing obesity than you will with talking about how much you eat.”