Decreasing obesity rates in Mississippi

Published 7:00 am Thursday, April 24, 2014

Decreasing the obesity rate in Mississippi requires the efforts of the community, individuals, government agencies and health care professionals, said Mississippi Department of Health Communications Director Liz Sharlot.

“Like the rest of the country, we are dealing with the battle of the bulge,” Sharlot said.

According to 2011 Center for Disease Control statistics, Mississippi has the highest obesity rate in the country at 34.9 percent. If the obesity rate continues on its current trend, the state’s rate could reach 66.7 percent by 2030, according to a 2012 report from Trust for America’s Health.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The good news is that the numbers seem to be improving.

“We’ve started to see some movement in numbers in the right direction especially in children,” Sharlot said.

According to the CDC, obesity can lead to heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. The health care costs in 2008 for obesity was $147 billion, with medical costs for obese individuals who are obese paying $1,429 more than individuals of a normal weight.

With a national childhood obesity rate of 13.9 percent in 2003, the state’s department of education began taking action taking action.

In 2007, the Mississippi Department of Education implemented the Mississippi Healthy Students Act, which requires public schools to provide increased amounts of physical activity and health education instruction.

According to the Mississippi Office of Healthy Schools website, the Healthy Students Act mandates 45 minutes per week of health education instruction and 150 minutes per week of activity based instruction for grades K-8. For grades 9-12, a half unit of health education credit was added to the graduation requirements.

The United States Department of Agriculture also implemented changes to school lunches in 2012.

The efforts on the part of schools seems to be positively affecting childhood obesity rates, which dropped to 8.4 percent nationwide in 2012, according to CDC statistics.

“It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight and it’s not something a government agency is going to solve,” Sharlot said.

It will take the changes being made in the community, to the infrastructure and the education of individuals, Sharlot said.

“We’ve got to make healthy eating and the healthy choice, the easy choice,” Sharlot said, which is difficult with Mississippi being a rural, low-income state. She said it would also require a cultural change.

Sharlot said she has seen some communities, like DeSoto County, take charge and make changes to make being healthy an easier choice for residents.

“Little by little, were starting to see some positive changes being made,” Sharlot said.