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A "growing threat" to our health

By Staff
Rep. Ronald Grantland, Guest Columnist
It seems that every year we get a new health warning, and it ends up either making us feel guilty or forcing us to change our lives.
Back in the 1970s, cholesterol warnings were all over television and newspapers. We were told to watch our intake of things we loved like eggs and bacon, and some of us started taking prescriptions to reduce our cholesterol levels.
It was the same with smoking. It is hard to believe, but it wasn't that long ago when doctors actually recommended cigarette brands. Now we know about the health risks of smoking, just like high blood pressure, driving without seatbelts, and even too much sugar.
In recent years, obesity has been the number one health risk reported in the media. Being overweight is a trigger for illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. We have a real problem with obesity, and our families and our healthcare system are going to pay a price if we don't start doing something about it now.
According to a recent report by the Trust for America's Health, Alabama has the 3rd highest rate of adult obesity in the nation, with 29.4 percent of all adults considered obese. The study showed Mississippi with the highest rate of obesity in the country, and 10 of the 15 states with the highest rates of obesity are all located in the South.
Not a surprise in the land of barbecue, fried chicken and sweet tea.
Alabama's obesity rate is the primary reason we have the fifth highest rate of diabetes in the nation, and why our life expectancy is less than other states. According to the study, only 30 percent of us exercise, which is less than folks in other states. And let's not forget that we eat foods higher in saturated fats.
Again, have they tried our barbecue?
Eighty-five percent of Americans believe obesity is an epidemic, according to a public opinion survey that came with the national study. So, how can we beat the "battle of the bulge" and live healthier without going on a fad diet?
There are some simple solutions, and when we actually do them, they don't seem too bad. A great start is to eat smaller portions. You can still eat potato salad; just don't load your plate. Try not to snack late at night. Even though those leftovers from dinner are calling your name, leave them alone for the next day's lunch. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes a day. It's great to work in the garden or do chores, but you need to get out and walk to get the old heart-rate up. You may feel active with the things you have to do each day, but setting aside 30 minutes to walk will do a lot to keep you healthy.
The problems with obesity don't just affect adults. Alabama has the 11th highest rate of overweight youths. 16.7 percent of Alabama's young are obese, according to the national report.
Statistics like this translate into real health problems in the future.
We are doing something in state government about youth obesity. Alabama is aggressively changing eating habits by offering better nutritional choices in our schools.
Two years ago, the state Board of Education reduced the number of sugary sodas in middle school vending machines, and completely removed full-calorie carbonated drinks from elementary schools.
Water, fruit juices, and milk products moved in, sodas moved out.
Under the new state policy, snacks and prepared foods in school lunchrooms are becoming more healthful, and fried foods are no longer allowed. We need to recognize that teaching our children about good nutritional choices is every bit as important as teaching them math and English.
Our efforts are getting national notice. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington D.C. study group, recently gave Alabama a "B+" for its efforts to improve the nutrition of schoolchildren. Our score was second highest in the nation and a vast improvement from the "F" the state received in years past.
The health warnings about obesity, like other health warnings over the years, are not going to fade away. We need to take them as seriously as warnings about cholesterol and cigarettes. Let us all resolve to try to eat healthier, exercise a little more, and pass on good habits to our young people so that they can live healthier lives.
It's just going to be hard to pass up on that second helping of barbecue. After all, this is the South.