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Beaumont named fifth fattest city

UP Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012

Updated: Thursday, April 26, 2012 17:04

obesity

UP illustration by William Jones

Everything is bigger in Texas — and the people of Beaumont are no exception.

A 2011 Gallup poll, which came out March 7, listed the Beaumont/Port Arthur metro area as the fifth most obese city in the nation. 33.8 percent of adults in the area are considered obese, and an estimated $182.8 million is spent on obesity-related causes annually.

Jau-Jin Chen, associate professor of family and consumer science, said that the culture of Southeast Texas is partially to blame for the obesity rate.

“From my observation, I think it’s the diet — how people prepare food in the culture,“ she said. “People are so used to deep-fried food. When I go to an all-you-can-eat buffet, and I see people with plates full of food that is a yellow color — that’s too much deep-fried food. It’s really unhealthy if you have too much fatty food.”

Chen said that there are a number of factors that contribute to obesity — and not all of them are within a person’s control.

“Obesity is a multifaceted problem,” she said. “It’s not just overeating. There are so many different factors that can affect overweight or obesity problems. It deals with a person’s genetics. It also involves environment, your personal lifestyle, your eating patterns, whether you exercise or not. The eating pattern may include the quantity of food that you eat, the quality of food you eat.

“Genetic factors and environmental factors — we cannot change those. Change your eating patterns, change your lifestyle.”

A balanced diet is essential to cultivating good eating habits, Chen said.

“You should have grain products like rice, cereal, pasta — these are foods that give you energy, give you carbohydrates,” she said. “And meat, beans, fish, chicken, eggs — these give you protein. You should have vegetables, and then you have fruit, and then dairy products — five different food groups that you need to incorporate in every meal.”

Chen added that too little exercise is not necessarily more detrimental to one’s health than too much food.

“I often ask students, ‘What do you think is the major problem: eating too much or lack of physical activity?’” she said. “Both play a role in your body weight, but I think overeating plays more of a role. If I eat 2,000 calories and I don’t do any physical activity — I intake that much, my body uses that much, and nothing can be stored as fat. So how does it contribute to obesity?

“But if I eat 2,500 calories every day, that excess 500 calories are going to be stored in my body — everywhere. If you overeat, eventually it will be stored in the body as fat, because we have a limited capacity for sugar. After that maximum storage capacity is reached, it will be converted into fat.”

It’s a common myth that eating less will make the pounds disappear faster, Chen said.

“People think, ‘I’m on a diet. I am only eating two doughnuts,’” she said. “When you eat doughnuts, you get lots of calories, because they come from sugar, from fat. You get a tiny bit of calcium, a tiny bit of iron.

“In a healthy breakfast, you get scrambled eggs, you get toast, you get maybe jelly, and you get low-fat turkey sausage — you get all these nutrients. You got calcium, you got iron, you get vitamin A, you get vitamin C. After you eat all this food, you are very full, and you really don’t have the appetite to eat a piece of chocolate. ”

In extreme cases, some obese patients opt for gastric bypass surgery. However, Chen said that she would strongly discourage this, as such a drastic change makes it difficult for the body to adapt.

“Any time you can only eat a small amount of food, it’s really, I think, torture,” she said. “I don’t really recommend for people to go through that. Why not use that money to hire a personal dietician to help you exercise, to help you eat right? You can still enjoy the food, but you also can improve your body weight and improve your health.

“I always tell people there’s no magic bullet. You have to change your lifestyle.”

A person is considered obese when he or she is more than 30 pounds overweight, or has a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. One can calculate his or her BMI by dividing their body weight by their height in inches squared, and then multiplying it by a factor of 703.

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