Pike County among most obese in Alabama

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Lirona Joshi

Staff Writer

A recent report by the Alabama Department of Public Health shows that 36.3 percent of adults in Alabama are considered obese, with the same statistic in Pike County coming in at 42 percent.

The State of Obesity report also shows a statewide increase in rate of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis and obesity-related cancer, which are all linked to surging obesity rate. College students are not immune to the problem either; 20.7 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds fall into the obese category.

To explain the underlying causes for the report findings, Linda Jennings, a public health nutritionist at the Alabama Department of Public Health, drew its parallel with the state’s low education and income level.

 “Lesser the education and lower the income, obesity rates are higher because there is less access to things,” Jennings said. “People who have less money have less access to healthier food, and even if the foods are available, they have less money to purchase them.

“The fat, sugary foods are cheaper. So, if you have a little bit of money and you are trying to stretch that dollar to make everybody full, you may go buy that instead of the fresh fruits and vegetables.”

This explanation can be used to reason out the 20.7 percent obesity in 18- to 25-year-olds which is a common bracket for a typical college student’s age.

According to Dr. Teresa Johnson, a professor in Troy’s Kinesiology and Health Promotion Department, students try to save money by buying foods with high calories but with less nutritional values.

“What you do is you say that I’m going to spend that little bit that I have to buy the most calories that I can,” said Johnson. “So, you get the ‘Dollar Menu’ or the ‘Two for Two,” which has 400-600 calories, 1000 calories. You are trying to stretch that dollar to make everybody full. You may go buy that instead of the fresh fruits and vegetables.”

However, Jacque Chirico, a registered nurse practicioner at Troy’s Student Health Center, warns that due to decreased physical activities in college-going youths compared to high schoolers, slight deviation in eating habits may result in lasting health implications.

Decrease in physical activities and increase in calorie consumption makes one more susceptible to obesity.

“If you have a genetic makeup already for diabetes, weight becomes a major driver,” said Chirico. “There is something called metabolic syndrome which is almost like a pre-diabetes, but you can see it in younger people now. They may not be diabetic, they may not have high blood pressure, but you can see where they are going in the future.

“You can already detect where they are going with high cholesterol and things like that, that they are boderlining, and that fat accumulates around the core of body in the trunk and chest area below the neck.”

Chirico also drew attention to the fact that lack of sleep, common in college students, leads them to eat more in order to satisfy the brain chemicals, ultimately adding to the problem.

Johnson recommends adding breakfast to one’s diet, as it keeps an individual from over-eating later in the day.

“It jump starts your metabolism and, for whatever reason, people who eat breakfast tend to be leaner,” said Johnson.

A diet rich in protein is highly recommended, as it is more satiating and makes you feel fuller. Also, it is recommended to have smaller portioned meals at frequent intervals, rather than a large portion of food in a single meal.

For students struggling to find an alternative to quick snacking on chips and vending machine food, substitution can be made with fresh fruits, dried fruits, cheese and nuts.

Precaution should not only be applied to what a person eats, but also on what they drink. Opting for calorie-free beverages over sugar-sweetened beverages is recommended.

“Drinking an ounce of soda or tea or a juice, you just gulp 12 to 15 calories with really no nutrition,” said Johnson. “Getting people to drink more water and calorie-free drinks is a great way to cut on it.”

Another factor which can help maintain a healthy weight is inclusion of regular exercise regimes.

When asked what the best workout regimen was, Johnson suggested taking up an activity which one can personally commit to on a daily basis.

“The best exercise is the one that you do. Find something that will get your heart rate up, involve different muscle groups, something that you will do at least 30 minutes a day and five times a week,” said Johnson.

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