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Obesity surpasses hunger as world's top health problem

By Jessica Ferguson
Dec. 19, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Obesity has become a bigger global health crisis than hunger and is the leading cause of disability around the world, according to a new report.

From 1990 to 2010, global obesity rates increased 82 percent, according to the Global Burden of Disease report published this past week in the British medical journal Lancet.

Medical officials attribute this increase to a change in lifestyle as countries become more industrialized. East Texas is no exception.

"The more affluent a society becomes, generally, the more sedentary they become and they tend to consume a less nutritional diet," said Dr. Paul McGaha, regional medical director of the Tyler-based Region 4/5 of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

McGaha said he believes more developed countries are finding that the increased rates of chronic disease (such as heart disease, cancer and stroke) are related to the choices people make.

"The primary risk factors for these chronic illnesses are smoking, poor nutritional habits- which can lead to obesity- and lack of exercise."

About 75 percent of all health care dollars, McGaha said, go toward combating heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes complications.

The global report is somewhat reflective of the growing trend of obesity in East Texas.

A Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System report on obesity, released by the state's Department of State Health Services in 2010, showed more than 33 percent of East Texans were at risk for obesity compared with about 27 percent in 2005.

In Texas, the obesity rate has increased from 14 percent in 1987 to more than 30 percent in 2011, according to McGaha.

In addition to increased obesity rates, McGaha said East Texas has some of the highest rates in the state for diabetes, smoking and lung cancer.

There are multiple factors that contribute to obesity.

"We still consume high-fat, high-sugar foods in excess. Restaurant portions have increased dramatically over the last 30 years. More food intake plus less exercise equals obesity," McGaha said.

"The society that we live in doesn't lend itself to exercise. We don't have a culture of wellness."

Rather than going outdoors and getting exercise, he said, people are staying inside playing videos games or embracing other technology.

The issue of obesity is not only affecting adults but children, as well.

"We've surveyed students at schools throughout East Texas, and obesity rates in children are climbing also," he said.

Obesity can cause a number of problems. Obese people have an increased chance of developing diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, McGaha said. Obesity can also cause premature wear and tear on the body and can lead to premature death.

McGaha recommends a variety of actions to help decrease the incidence of obesity:

<ul> <li>Avoid smoking;</li> <li>Perform physical and mental activities every day;</li> <li>Eat a healthier diet rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruits;</li> <li>Stay connected by building a strong social network- away from the computer;</li> <li>Try to get plenty of sleep;</li> <li>See your doctor as advised for age and gender.</li> </ul>



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