Solving obesity problem in state will take team effort

Published 11:09 pm Saturday, August 18, 2012

Mississippi, we’re fat.

For the past seven years, the Magnolia State has had the sad distinction of being recognized as the fattest state in the fattest country in the developed world.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 percent of adult Mississippians are fat. That’s up from last year and the number of obese residents in the state has more than doubled since 1991 when it surpassed 15 percent.

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All that extra weight carries with it a hefty price tag. Obesity-related health expenses are projected to cost Americans more than $550 billion this year, according to the Trust for America’s Health.

Regrettably, it’s a problem that isn’t easily fixed.

Myriad factors conspire to keep Mississippi fat. Everything from traditional Southern cooking to socioeconomic factors adds to our woes.

With busy schedules, why take the time to cook a healthy meal when we can pick up a $10 pizza or zoom through the drive-through for a bag of 99-cent cheeseburgers?

And what Southerner in his right mind is going to say no to fried chicken or a pulled-pork sandwich every once in a while?

It’s easy to feel hopeless, but a good place to start is with our children.

Young people who grow up with unhealthy lifestyles and diets are inevitably going to be unhealthy adults, so as a society, targeting our children is only logical.

The majority of that responsibility falls with parents and families, but a recent report showed states that pass laws governing the types of food served at schools have a marked improvement in childhood obesity rates.

Hopefully, everyone can agree feeding our children junk food at school isn’t a good idea and taking the care to serve more nutritious items is the way to go.

Physical education of some kind also needs to be a priority in schools. Our children spend enough time behind a computer or on the couch. An hour of running, jumping and playing would do them some good.

But a true solution will take more than action from our lawmakers. Politicians can ban trans fats or regulate the size of our soft drinks, but ultimately it’s about personal responsibility.

To get Mississippi off the top of yet another “worst list,” we all have to make the effort to eat healthier, exercise more and occasionally say no to that second (or third) piece of fried chicken.