Alabama has a weight problem. And that’s an understatement.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 percent of Alabamians are overweight or obese.
That is a staggering statistic, well above even the national average of 63 percent.
But despite Alabama’s bulging bellies, some people are hoping that it’s not too late to reverse the trend and cinch our belts a few notches tighter.
This Sunday, June 24, at 2 p.m., the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership, in cooperation with the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, will host a screening of the final segment of a new four-part HBO documentary, The Weight of the Nation. Admission is free.
The screening, which will be held in the Linn-Henley Auditorium, will kick off the Gardens’ documentary film series, meant to help celebrate the Alabama Department of Tourism’s “Year of Alabama Food.”
The segment of the documentary to be screened is titled “Challenges.” It looks at the origins and severity of obesity in America, examines the challenges faced by those struggling with their weight and offers solutions for communities like Birmingham that are attempting to fight the epidemic.
There will be a post-film panel discussion with such speakers as Ashley Obiaka, a public health expert and obesity program manager at United Way of Central Alabama, who will serve as moderator; Jerri Haslem and Sandra Koulourides, local fitness and nutrition experts; and Nichalaus Sims, a community planner at the United Way.
According to a release from the Health Action Partnership, the screening is meant “to shine a light on Alabama’s obesity problem and the solutions.” In the context of recent CDC surveys, Alabama needs solutions more than anything right now.
According to the CDC’s recent national survey of high school kids, Alabama has more obese teenagers than any other state in the union. The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, the CDC’s study of risky behavior in high-school students, a full 17 percent of Alabama’s teenagers are obese. This is not only well above the national average, which is 13 percent, but also well above Alabama’s teenage obesity levels in the CDC’s 2009 YRBSS survey, which were around 14 percent. In fact, teenage obesity is at an all-time high in Alabama as measured by the survey.
When we look at some of the other things that the YRBSS survey measures, like unhealthy diet and exercise habits, Alabama’s staggering numbers start to come into focus.
Alabama’s teenagers were tied for first in the nation for the percentage of students who claimed to consume three or more sodas a day, at 19.5 percent.
Alabama’s teenagers were third in the nation, behind Mississippi and Louisiana, for the percentage of students who watch three or more hours of television per day, at 40.6 percent.
Alabama was tied for second in the nation for the highest percentage of teenagers who did not eat vegetables at all during the day, at 10.3 percent, behind Louisiana’s 12.2 percent.
So while Alabama might not take the cake (or eat it) in all negative measures of health, it’s certainly towards the bottom on some of the most important measures and, of course, sits squarely on the throne for the most relevant statistic, obesity.
According to a recent report at al.com, administrators of the Alabama Department of Education are still trying to figure out the cause of the increase in unhealthy lifestyles, but the reason that Alabama teens are becoming obese in such large numbers is a sedentary lifestyle combined with overeating.
Suzanne Yates, head of the child nutrition program in the Mobile County Public School System, told al.com that they are going to encourage students to eat more fruits and vegetables while limiting access to soda, meat, carbohydrates and other calorie-dense foods lacking in nutrition. “It’s not going to be school lunches making people overweight,” Yates said.
School lunches are only part of the problem though. Habits learned and enforced at home are what make teenagers obese and keeps them obese on into adulthood. Alabama’s weight problem is getting a little out of hand, and it won’t fix itself.
Obiaka, one of the panelists for the film screening, believes that the community needs to take obesity seriously in order to find solutions.
“Obesity is a serious threat to the well-being of our nation,” she said in the news release. “We need to intensify the conversation and facilitate community action to help bring down obesity rates and improve the quality of life for those who live and work in Jefferson County.”
For More Information
The Jefferson County Health Action Partnership is a coalition of more than agencies, led by the Jefferson County Department of Health, dedicated to improving community health. For more information, go to www.jcdh.org.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens is Alabama’s largest botanical garden and is open daily with free admission. For more information, go to www.bbgardens.org.
To learn more about the HBO documentary series, The Weight of the Nation, visit http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com.
Andy McWhorter is a Weld Local correspondent.