Williams was also searching for a way to get healthier and shed a few pounds.
She found the answer to both through the Anniston Runners Club and the Woodstock 5K.
“I was just trying to stay in shape and it helped … I lost 23 pounds,” Williams said. “And I was able to meet a lot of nice people. It really helped me get acquainted with people in the community.”
The Anniston Runners Club, which organizes the annual Woodstock 5K, sees the race as a way to spur the community toward a healthier lifestyle.
The race grew from approximately 80 participants in 2005 to 1,400 last year with runners from 16 states, including Iowa and New Jersey and a few even from France and Brazil. Still, more than half the runners were from Calhoun County.
Despite the growing trend of running and fitness in the area, the trend toward obesity, diabetes and other conditions of poor health have grown in the area as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 68.2 percent of Alabama adults are overweight or obese, compared to the national average of 64 percent, and Calhoun County’s obesity rate fits right in with the state average. Statistics from the Alabama Department of Public Health show that the county has a 33.6 percent obesity rate among its adult population. The county with the highest rating is Greene County at 43.9 percent while the county with the lowest rating is Baldwin County at 26.3 percent.
“Alabama is in the top three states in the country in terms of obesity … about 1 in 3 individuals can be considered obese in our state,” said James Ard, associate dean for clinical affairs and associate scientist in the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“That means 1 in 3 Alabamians would have to lose between 40 and 50 pounds to get to a normal weight.”
Brooke Nelson, former president of the Anniston Runners Club, said much of Woodstock’s success in recent years can be attributed to participants wanting to lose weight.
“One of the reasons the race has grown is because it is a fitness-related event,” she said. “A lot of organizations and businesses challenge their employees to do it.”
Ann Angell, fitness director for the Calhoun County YMCA, said she encourages people in her classes to sign up for the event every year as a way to motivate them toward their fitness goals.
“It’s a good place to start,” Angell said. “All it takes is one foot in front of the other.”
Nelson said the Runners Club has made a concerted effort to promote the Woodstock 5K — which begins at 7:30 a.m. this Saturday — not so much as a competition, but as a way to jump-start a healthy way of living.
“It has a reputation that you have to be fast to run the race,” she said. “But we’ve tried to let people know that you don’t have to be fast. Anybody can do it.”
Nelson noted that many members of the Runners Club, like Williams, joined the organization and started running the Woodstock not to race, but to get healthier.
“So many runners start running to lose weight, but then fall in love with it,” Nelson said.
Ard said that from what research he has seen, the health issues in Alabama do not appear to be improving.
“The challenge I see for us is that children are being affected by this as well,” he said. “If a person is overweight as a child, then they tend to be that way as an adult.”
However, moderate exercise could do much to curb a person’s weight problem, Ard said.
He said joining a group like the runners club or participating in a social event like the Woodstock 5K would be good motivation for someone trying to lose weight.
“A lot of people are more consistent when they have a partner,” Ard said. “That can be an important strategy … group support to help you stay accountable.”
Along with obesity, diabetes is a significant issue in Alabama. Center for Disease Control statistics show that diabetes’ prevalence among Alabama adults is 12.3 percent, compared to the national average of 8.3 percent.
Davisson Edmond, hospitalist for Regional Medical Center, said diabetes and weight problems plague many Calhoun County patients.
“Six out of 10 patients that come into our hospital have diabetes,” he said. “They come in for heart problems mostly. And most of them are overweight.”
Edmond said that in the long run, diabetes can lead to debilitating issues, such as eye problems, kidney disease, heart attacks and poor circulation in the legs that can result in amputation.
The best way to manage diabetes is through exercise, he said.
“Diet, exercise and weight loss, that is what we encourage our patients to manage their diabetes,” Edmond said.
And, like Ard, he agreed that joining the Runners Club or participating in an event like a 5K would be a great way for a person to motivate him or herself into losing weight.
“Yeah, that would definitely help,” he said.
Star staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561.