July 2018

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12 T M C » P U L S E | J U LY 2 0 1 8 Unpacking the Pounds TMC dietitians weigh in on ways to curb the obesity epidemic T he collective waistlines of Americans have expanded over the last three decades, causing obesity to rise as a leading health concern in Texas and across the United States. Dietetic experts in the Texas Medical Center have a two-pronged plan to help Houston's health community treat patients: Educate to overcome nutrition barriers and tackle health challenges. "[Obesity] is frustrating, but I think, from our end, we're excited because we see the potential growth: The interest from the med students—the interest from the next generation of people saying this is a problem," said J. Wesley McWhorter, nutritionist supervisor of the Nourish Program at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). "Five years ago, people didn't care. Ten years ago, it was like: 'Why would you care about nutrition? Who cares about nutrition?' Now, it's becoming, 'Yes, we can actually address this. We can do something.' This is important." An analysis published this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted upward obesity trends among adults and youths in the United States. The conclusions came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey—conducted by researchers affiliated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—which examined obesity during two periods over the last decade. Although there was a slight uptick in obesity for youth, researchers found a 6 percent increase among adults. The adult obesity rate jumped from nearly 34 percent in 2007-2008 to 40 percent in 2015-2016. Nearly 34 percent of adult Texans are obese, making the state the eighth most obese in the country. The cost of obesity Individuals are considered overweight or obese if they exceed what is considered "normal weight" for their height, age, gender and build. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a person who weighs too much is considered "overweight," but a person with too much body fat is "obese." More precisely, obesity has been defined by the NIH as a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or more. BMI is a calculation of a person's weight and height, which strongly correlates to body fat content. Obesity increases an individual's risk for chronic health conditions, including hyperten- sion, type 2 diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease. According to the CDC, obesity can also increase the risk of at least 13 types of cancers, such as endometrial cancer, liver cancer and pancreatic cancer. The agency reported that 40 percent of all cancer cases in the country were diagnosed in association with obesity. In addition to the personal health toll, all of these medical issues also translate to heftier medical expenses. The nation's obesity epidemic currently costs between $147 billion and $210 billion each year in medical care, including preventive, diagnostic and treatment services, according to the CDC. Clinical dietitian specialist Sharon Smalling displays healthy food products in her office to teach her patients about good nutrition. If we can teach people how to make healthy food taste good, that solves a lot of the problem. If food tastes good, people will eat it. If it tastes bad, they might eat for a small amount of time, as long as their will allows them to. But we all know that the will to do something is very small. — J. WESLEY McWHORTER Nutritionist supervisor of the Nourish Program at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at UTHealth B y S h a n l e y P i e r c e

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