For children and adults, obesity and its accomplices — diabetes, high blood pressure, heart ailments — are rampant in this state. The statistics prove it. They show up in our life expectancies, our medical bills and our quality of life. That’s why The Star, through its “Our Big Problem” coverage this year, is focusing on ways Alabamians can begin reclaiming their lives from the severe health problems of obesity.
On Sunday, Star reporter Cameron Steele highlighted the story of Andrea Cheeks, a Sylacauga resident who says she has struggled to control her weight her entire life. Steele’s story followed Cheeks through her decision to undergo bariatric gastric-sleeve surgery in May. It’s a once-controversial, expensive surgery — between $18,000 and $35,000 — that removes or re-routs part of a patient’s stomach and also takes out the patient’s hunger hormone.
Cheeks weighed 400 pounds before the surgery at Stringfellow Memorial Hospital. Since then, Cheeks says she’s lost 80 pounds, is out of her wheelchair and no longer takes medication for high blood pressure and cholesterol.
That is one of Alabama’s burgeoning success stories in the state’s fight against obesity. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough Andrea Cheeks — people who have started down their own paths to improving their health and controlling their weight.
A new study released Monday made that stunningly clear. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 32 percent of adult Alabamians are obese — virtually 1 in 3. That keeps Alabama among the most obese states, with only Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia adults posting a higher percentage.
Not much has changed since last year; that 1-in-3 figure is comparable to 2011. The bottom line is that Alabama’s quest to lessen its waistline and improve its health will be a long, arduous campaign that requires changes in how we eat, how we exercise and what we teach our children about diet and lifestyles. It is a multifaceted, generational problem. This state will not join the country’s healthiest regions overnight.
That’s why reminders from the CDC and stories such as Cheeks’ are good to hear. Call them constructive criticism: They tell us how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.