Problem is, that mentality — good, old-fashioned Southern food, and lots of it — is one of the main reasons why Alabama's obesity levels, and residents' long list of related health problems, are gaining national, and unwanted, attention.
It's not a pretty sight.
A new study released last week provided a sobering look at obesity in America. More than a quarter of adults in 31 states are obese, says the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Foundation. Twenty-three states — including Alabama — saw their obesity rates rise during the last year.
Face it; America's waistline is no laughing matter, and the recession — when many people cut costs by eating cheap, artery-clogging fast food — isn't helping matters. No state's obesity rate declined precipitously during the last year, and only one state, health-conscious Colorado, had an adult obesity rate of less than 20 percent.
Oh, and Alabama?
The worst news is particularly negative: Almost 39 percent of the state's oldest baby boomers (ages 55 to 64) are obese. For Medicare's administrators, it's even worse; 16.3 percent of the first baby boomers to hit that program's
rolls are obese, which means a massive amount of money will be spent on obesity-related health problems for aging Alabamians.
And as Alabamians age, and their eating and exercise habits don't change, that trend will only worsen.
It's not breaking news that Alabama and its Southern brethren are among the nation's fattest and most unhealthy states. Still, last week's report must be a stern wake-up call to legislators, health-care administrators and — most importantly — anyone struggling with obesity. It is past time to seek a better way of life.
Nevertheless, says Jeff Levi, executive director of the nonprofit Trust, "There isn't a magic bullet. We don't have a pill for it. It's not going to be solved in the doctor's office but in the community, where we change norms."
Optimists will say Alabama's trying, that it's not ignoring this public health crisis. They will point to efforts such as Scale Back Alabama, a statewide initiative of the Alabama Hospital Association and the Alabama Department of Public Health aimed at teaching residents the value of healthy eating and exercise.
Pessimists will say these efforts aren't working. Despite the state's warm weather and picturesque beauty, too many Alabamians shun the outdoors, ignore the need to exercise, and eat the lip-smackin', Southern-fried delights they love.
The train wreck's coming. As Americans age and rely on Medicare, more money will go to paying for obesity. What's more, as obesity rates increase, more Americans — and many Alabamians — will see their lives cut short by the health problems related to obesity.
Indeed, there may be no magic bullet. But there must be a change in culture, a change in the way Americans think about food and exercise and healthy living. What we're doing today isn't working.
Obesity and the states
• Mississippi has the highest rate of adult obesity, 32.5 percent, for the fifth year in a row.
•Three additional states now have adult obesity rates above 30 percent, including Alabama, 31.2 percent; West Virginia, 31.1 percent; and Tennessee, 30.2 percent.
• Colorado has the lowest rate of obese adults, at 18.9 percent.
• Mississippi also had the highest rate of overweight and obese children, at 44.4 percent. It's followed by Arkansas, 37.5 percent; and Georgia, 37.3 percent.
• Following Alabama, Michigan ranks No. 2 with the most obese 55- to 64-year-olds, 36 percent. Colorado has the lowest rate, 21.8 percent.
— Source: Trust for America's Health report