Physicians look to combat Miss. obesity

Published 12:13 am Saturday, July 4, 2009

NATCHEZ — While the South is known the world over for its rich culinary fare, that cuisine comes with some serious ramifications.

And it’s showing in the waistlines of Mississippians, young and old.

The Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have labeled Mississippi with the highest rates of adult obesity and the highest rates of obese and overweight children in the country.

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The study places 32.5 percent of the state’s adults in the obese category and 44.4 percent of children 10 to 17 in the overweight and obese categories.

Natchez cardiologist Dr. Vickram Dulam said many of the overweight and obese patients he sees simply don’t consider weight as a contributing factor to their health problems.

Dulam said as patients gain weight they become less active and as a result of their inactivity, their bodies begin to develop health problems.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Dulam said of the effects of obesity. “And a lot of people just don’t see it.”

But while patients may not make the connection between their weight and health woes, the problems are unavoidable.

“Diabetes, chronic arthritis and cardiovascular disease all come from obesity,” Dulam said.

And to get their patients into better shape, some local physicians are taking action.

Dr. Blane Mire practices internal medicine and, with his partners, started a weight-loss program for obese patients that are monitored by physicians.

“We are in a society that likes to eat,” Mire said. “And so many people don’t have a concept of portion control.”

Mire said since so many people are overweight, obesity becomes the norm and many people that are medically obese don’t even know.

People with a body mass index, which measures height and weight to determine obesity, greater than 30 are considered obese.

Those with a BMI from 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight.

And while most have concerns about the rate of obesity among adults, the rate of overweight and obese children is especially troubling, Dulam said.

Many parents simply don’t know that their children’s current weight will put them at risk for significant health problems in years to come, Dulam said.

“In 10 years they’ll start to see any number of problems,’ Dulam said.

Natchez-Adams School District Superintendent Anthony Morris said the district is taking steps to address the issue.

Morris said some federal stimulus money, which should be here before the start of the new school year, will be used to hire a nurse to work with the schools to tackle weight problems in the student body.

“It’s a serious matter,” Morris said.

The district will also be utilizing grant money to supplement physical education classes and teach students the benefits of healthy eating.

“We need to integrate the benefits of a healthily lifestyle into teaching,” he said.

Alabama and West Virginia ranked second and third as the fattest states behind Mississippi.

Louisiana ranked eighth in adult obesity and seventh in childhood obesity.