The War on Obesity

One town’s decision to combat obesity may be misdirected because it fails to consider the environmental causes of obesity.

Comment on “Mississippi Losing The War With Obesity” on All Things Considered 19 May 2011. I discuss how the problems with obesity in this rural town may have to do with more than just what these people eat. I suggest methods for educating the people there about food, its effects on their body, as well as how they perform in exercise tests may help them realize that their physical health could be better once they understand the performance level expected of them.

Updated: 1 Sept 2014

Fatty Bacon, from Tamorlan on Wikimedia
Fatty Bacon, from Tamorlan on Wikimedia


This is part of a continuing series that NPR is running on the prevalence, treatment and prevention of obesity. You can do a search at that site for other reports about obesity.  NPR reporter Debbie Elliott spoke with several people living in Mississippi about their obesity problem and the diets they have, along with health professionals and state legislators. There are few places where a person can buy a cooked meal, (they interviewed people who ate at a Double-Quick [gas station/convenience store/lunch counter], where fatty, fried foods predominate), and only one small grocery store with little choice in fresh vegetables and fruit.  The perception of healthy to people here means having substantial weight, they have gotten so used to the excess weight. They also assume that being overweight means having difficulty breathing and moving around. State legislators said they had difficulty getting any laws passed that affect food choices.
My Comment Posted at NPR

The statistics for child obesity in Mississippi (44%) do not outdo Los Angeles County, it seems.  Jamie Oliver mentioned that 93% of the school children there were considered obese.  I do not know if he was using the same standard that public health statisticians in Mississippi did, however.

Residents commented that they do not want the government in their kitchens, telling them what to eat.  Their government does not have to pass a law taxing sugary drinks or removing fatty foods from the home, but they could encourage changes in diet, e.g. interviews on cooking shows, billboards, showing different recipes to achieve the same taste but with different ingredients. Education is the best way to make change, even though change will not be fast enough for everyone to benefit.

According to Wikipedia: Tchula, Mississippi, as of the 2000 census, Tchula had a population of 2,332, with about 45% of the population being single-parent, female head of household families, and the median income was less than $15,000, obviously a very poverty-stricken area. According to Analysis of 39169, Tchula, Mississippi, at least in 2007, about 30% of the adults had graduated from high school, and barely 55% had an income.

Fat Cells
Fat Cells

That same site mentions that mining was one of the industries there.  I had heard that there was considerably more mining done in the past.  Certain extractive industries introduce extremely toxic substances into the air which may have started the obesity trend just after WWII.  Some toxins can cause enough damage to fat cells in the body core to prevent them from being able to metabolize fats, thus leading to a craving for fat in the diet by the brain, and causing the normal controls on portion size and content to spiral out of control.

See my blog at [below] for more ideas that Mississippi can put into effect without having to appear that the government is regulating what they eat. Watch my blog at for more on nutrition that calls into question our present attitudes about diet, and the reason for specific food choices that needs to be addressed if a person wants to be healthy. I am planning more articles on these topics in the future.

Suggestions for Decreasing Obesity Prevalence

Carrots, from Angelo Signore, at Wikimedia
Carrots, from Angelo Signore, at Wikimedia

Debbie Elliott mentioned that some nutrition changes had been made in schools so far, but education seems to be missing here, especially with the high school graduation level being so low.  Start with education classes for cafeteria workers, where they are encouraged to come up with their own ideas for menu items and the ingredients they would include. These classes could include learning how to work with fruits and vegetables they have never used before, so that they are not afraid to cook them. They could subsidize home or community gardens with seeds of fruits and vegetables that increase the variety available, so that they do not have to become dependent on the one local grocery store.

Making changes in the food served in school cafeterias would help, too. Many food items can be made to look like favorite fried foods, but baked instead.  If the menu is changed gradually, they might be able to achieve attitude changes.  Start local grade school education programs about growing their own food and cooking it, as they did with the Edible Schoolyard program in California (Alice Waters, the owner of Chez Panisse restaurant, started this program in Berkeley).  In fact the kids could spend time growing the foods that will be served to them in the cafeteria.

Chez Panisse restaurant, Berkeley, California, by Calton, at Wikimedia
Chez Panisse restaurant, Berkeley, California, by Calton, at Wikimedia

Adding physical tests of stamina and other bench markers in PE classes can tell children that what they feel now physically is not what they are supposed to feel. These tests should have some element of consistency–e.g. some of them are given on every PE day. Offering their parents the chance to test themselves in special fitness days would also help.  They need more than their doctors telling them that their blood pressure is too high.  Change school bus routes: Park buses at least three blocks away, making children walk that far to catch their bus home (under supervision, of course).  Many districts drop off kids right near their homes, making it unlikely that the child will get the exercise that most children got 50 years ago when they had to walk at least one block to catch their school bus in the morning. Most of these programs are not that expensive.

Changing the way we feed our school children is important because so many come from homes that don’t have adequate nutrition and cannot pack a good lunch for them. Returning simple exercise to daily school routines has been known to help keep kids healthier. However, a big step needs to be taken to remove toxins from the environment. In order to do so, we need to recognize environmental toxin sources. Good nutrition from fresh fruits and vegetables can be a tonic to a toxic environment, as well.

Other Nutrition Posts:

On Healthy Ice Cream
Nutrition Reviews
Nutrition and Chemistry
On Finding Cholesterol in Egyptian Mummies
Food Tips for Weight Loss
Calcium Supplements
Cholesterol and Heart Disease
Coffee and Prostate Cancer
Eating Wild Greens
Recipes for Healthy Eating
Science Says Diets Cannot Fight Chronic Pain
Obesity and Pesticides
Sweetness Preferences Change at Puberty

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© Copyright 2014 by Martha L. Hyde and


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