Question is, when are we going to do something about it? When are Alabamians going to start considering this the public-health epidemic that it is?
With cold, hard facts, two national health groups released their annual report, “F as in Fat,” last Thursday. It reverberated with awful news. Its basic premise: America is getting fatter — still — and Alabama, along with most of its Southern brethren, is ground zero for a host of obesity-related health problems.
Diabetes now affects as many as 12.2 percent of adults in Alabama, the report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America’s Health said. Almost 40 percent of adult Alabamians suffer from high blood pressure. Mississippi remains the nation’s fattest state, but Alabama is No. 2, with 32.3 percent of its adult residents considered obese.
It should be no consolation to Alabama’s public-health officials that 15 other states also are experiencing large increases in obesity rates, along with additional increases in Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Thousands of Alabamians are suffering from all kinds of health issues because, in part, of the excess weight they carry.
Seeking long-term solutions remains as problematic as the health concerns themselves; our obsession with sitting for hours in front of computer screens — and jobs that require such work — is a major factor. Since the release of last Thursday’s report, critics of the federal government’s attempts to legislate the nation into better health have resurfaced, saying that national and state-level efforts to provide healthier school lunches is hardly the do-all fix this deep problem requires.
“Until the government takes on the food industry, we’ll continue to see the appalling numbers in this report,” Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told the Los Angeles Times. “These numbers signal an emergency, and we simply have to have the courage and resolve to do more than we’re doing.”
Brownell, in fact, believes Washington should ramp up several initiatives, including serious restrictions on marketing unhealthy food to children and “financial policies that make healthy foods cost less and unhealthy foods cost more.”
Yes, the government has a substantial role to play in this issue. It must do more. It must make healthy eating habits easier to adopt, particularly for low-income Americans who feel they have no choice but to buy cheap (and unhealthy) food.
There is no magic bullet, no easy solution. Washington can’t legislate this problem away with a single new law.
Often, it comes down to personal decisions: How important is it to you to eat healthy? To move away from the South’s tastiest — yet unhealthy — cooking habits? To exercise regularly? To teach your children the value of a healthy lifestyle?
Government can legislate all it wants, but if Alabamians want to move the state out of this unsightly fattest-state list, it has to start at home with life-changing decisions. Without that, this problem will never go away.
U.S. obesity rankings
States with highest percentage of obese adults:
1. Mississippi 34.4
2. Alabama 32.3
3. West Virginia 32.2
4. Tennessee 31.9
5. Louisiana 31.6
6. Kentucky 31.5
7. Oklahoma 31.4
8. South Carolina 30.9
9. Arkansas 30.6
10. Michigan 30.5