Health problems coincide with obesity

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

The problem of obesity in the United States is shaping up to become the biggest disease of the century and the cure -- more physical activity and wiser eating choices -- could prevent millions of cancer cases and other related diseases.

That was the message at Tuesday's obesity conference in Cape Girardeau, where a hundred or so local community and health-care workers gathered to hear expert advice and a panel discussion on the causes of obesity and how it can be fought.

"Obesity has taken us by storm," said Nisreen Kabeer, an obesity researcher with the state health department's Division of Chronic Disease Prevention. "As your weight increases, your chance for chronic disease rises right along with it."

Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of cancer-related deaths, but obesity, which is linked to kidney, colon and breast cancers, is not far behind. It is also a factor in diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and osteoporosis.

The Missouri Obesity Burden Report was also released Tuesday, saying that obesity has reached "epidemic proportions." The report says physical inactivity and poor diet combined are the second leading cause of death nationally, resulting in about 300,000 deaths each year. Missouri ranks 10th in the country with the number of obese residents.

Reasons for obesity

The reasons vary, the speakers said.

Rita Reeder, a licensed registered dietitian with the state health department, said that as a society, people's diets aren't that healthy. She said that's because it's easy to eat that way as people become a culture of on-the-run junk-food junkies that eat fewer meals at home.

"Family meals are disappearing," she said. "Now it's maybe once a week and in your car. We're also stocking our freezers with things we can microwave, most of which isn't very good for you."

People are also more sedentary, she said, spending way too much time in front of the television instead of exercising or doing other sorts of physical activity.

In other words, people should eat healthier and exercise more.

"It's a personal issue for many of us," Reeder said. "We know what we should do, but it doesn't always compute. It's not a matter of watching the scales, we should be watching what we eat and not being couch potatoes."

Overweight children

The report and the speakers encouraged healthy behaviors as well as environmental changes that encourage the cultivation of healthy behaviors for both adults and children, who also are increasingly overweight.

For example, Diana Hawkins, the manager of Missouri's cardiovascular health program, pointed out that the Surgeon General recommends a minimum of 30 minutes a day of moderately intense exercise at least five days a week.

Other advice included:

Set realistic goals. Focus on habits, not the weight on the scale.

Keep a journal. Monitor your food intake and physical activity.

Make healthy food choices. Control portion sizes, don't supersize. Eat five to nine servings of vegetables and fruits a day. Limit fat and sugar. Limit alcohol intake.

Eat slowly and small frequent meals. Avoid skipping meals.

Be physically active every day.

Limit television viewing to less than two hours a day.

Larry Proctor, an instructor at Southeast Missouri State University's Health and Leisure Department, said he was surprised to learn how serious the problem has become.

"People don't see obesity as a crisis," he said. "But it is a crisis."

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