By COSHANDRA DILLARD
Texas is the 13th most obese state, up from 14th in 2009, according to the report, "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2010."
The seventh annual report is funded by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, nonprofit organizations charged with examining America's most pressing health issues.
The obesity rate in Texas went from 27.5 percent in 2009 to 29 percent today. The childhood obesity rate declined, going from 32.2 percent among 10- to 17-year-olds in the 2009 report to 20.4 percent in 2010. However, Texas' 10 to 17-year-olds rank the seventh-most obese in the nation, up from 20th in the 2009 report.
"It just goes to show that our city, our state and our country need to continue to pay attention to this alarming trend in obesity by starting to take steps to improve our lives," said George Roberts, chief executive officer of the Northeast Texas Public Health District.
According to the report, there are now 28 states, or two-thirds of the nation, that have adult obesity rates greater than 25 percent. Rankings are based on combined data from 2007 to 2009 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
Smith County residents fared a little better than the state average, with a 27 percent obesity rate. However, the low-income preschool obesity rate is 25.5 percent, higher than any other county in East Texas, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.
STARTING WITH CHILDREN
For more than a year, NTPHD has tried to launch its Healthy Living Initiative, a program that will implement health and fitness programs around the city. While the project is in need of funding, board members continue to educate the public about the obesity epidemic.
Board member Dr. Ben Bridges has made presentations on obesity around East Texas, particularly in the African-American community, a group hit hardest by obesity and its effects.
NTPHD also is funding a program at the Boys & Girls' Club, targeting children ages 12 to 16. It is headed by business partners Charmyst Amie and Kelly Hitchcock, who own Aim High Sports Training.
"We're partnering with Charmyst to do a trial and see how the program works and if it works well, that will be the basis for a grant to try to expand it next summer," Roberts said. "We're starting with the most vulnerable populations. We want to really encourage kids to get active and also kids can get other family members to be active as well."
Fitness experts Amie and Hitchcock are adamant about changing obesity statistics. They meet with adolescents three times each week for an hour during the eight-week program, which includes physical activity and education. During a recent session Thursday, the men shared information about calorie-laden foods and how to make the right choices.
"We're here because we care about you. I want you to be healthy," Amie told the young crowd, explaining that 40 percent of school-age children are overweight or obese.
He continued, "For the first time, kids are being born and they're not expected to outlive their parents. Our life spans are getting cut shorter and shorter."
Hitchcock drove the point home, comparing the body to a car, noting that they need to preserve the body with good fuel and frequent maintenance.
"This is the only body you're ever going to get. You'll never get another one," he said.
The children weren't the only ones enlightened about healthier food choices. Pearlie and Fred Gossett, of Flint, whose grandson, Bryston Parker, attends the program, were interested in what the men had to say. They listened intently, nodding their heads with each point.
"It's going to change us, too. This is a wake-up call for us," Mrs. Gossett said. "This is a really good program."
"The more you learn, the better off you are," her husband said.
While the two men are on track with the program, they know that it takes more people and effort to get people to think about healthy lifestyles.
"I'm finding that it takes an abundant amount of resources," Amie said. "When the whole community has joined together like it has, that's exciting. We're moving in the right direction."
Hitchcock chimed in, "We're trying to put a forest fire out with a broom. It's going to be very hard until we see it as a priority. We have health care problems because of the self-inflicted problems we've brought on ourselves."
Nonetheless, they are already seeing positive results.
"We have some noticeable physical results with the kids who come regularly," Amie said.
In fact, Parker is one of his most improved pupils. The 12-year-old has made small changes in his diet and is ready to journal his daily food intake.
"I just want to be healthy and get ready for sports," Parker said.
Amie contends there is a lack of structured fitness programs targeted for whole families and is advocating the city to establish a more comprehensive, multi-purpose center for fitness and family activities.
"I'm trying to reach the parents through the kids," he said. "We're getting great feedback from parents who are appreciative for what we are doing. Our desire is to be one of the vehicles to combat this epidemic."
The new obesity rates in Texas are not that alarming to Hitchcock. He believes traditions and the need to relieve stress with food is the culprit to the South's obese epidemic. Ten out of the 11 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South.
The report, "F as in Fat," revealed the number of states with obesity rates greater than 30 percent has doubled. All eight are southern states - Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia. Northeastern and western states had the lowest adult obesity rates.
"We live in an area that really uses food to show love. It's that southern hospitality. Our associations with food aren't always used for substance," Hitchcock said.
He added that Americans are also accustomed to mindless eating.
"We're so conditioned that we have to have something (to eat) in our hand while we're watching TV or playing a video game," he said.
Hitchcock said ultimately, becoming fit and getting weight under control is very simple.
"When you eat more than you burn, you gain weight. When you burn more than you take in, you lose weight. It's not magic. It's math," he said.
The report uncovered troubling racial and ethnic disparities in obesity rates, with blacks and Latinos having higher obesity rates than whites in 40 states and Washington. In Texas, the obesity rate for African-Americans is 37.6 percent and 34 percent among Latinos, compared to 25.8 among whites.
There are also income disparities among the obese. More than 35.3 percent of adults earning less than $15,000 were obese, compared to about 24 percent of adults earning more than $50,000 or more.