Obesity -- the condition of being significantly above one's healthy weight -- is a health crisis in Alabama. Across our state, the number of overweight and obese individuals is rapidly increasing. In fact, almost 65% of the population of Alabama is overweight or obese. It is the second most common cause of preventable death in the United States, and may lead to life-threatening illnesses, called co-morbidities, such Type II diabetes, cancer, heart conditions, and hypertension.
Unsurprisingly, Alabama also leads the nation in adults suffering from high blood pressure, with 31% of Alabamians diagnosed with the condition compared to 24.9% nationally according to a 2002 study by the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC),. And Alabama's adult diabetes rate of 10.5% was the highest in America, more than double the 5% rate in 50th-ranked Minnesota.
Something has to be done to stop the epidemic of obesity in our state. Unfortunately, obesity can be one of the most difficult diseases to treat. Weight loss itself is a simple matter: once a person's daily caloric intake falls below the number of calories needed, the body begins to burn fat to stay alive, resulting in weight loss. The difficulty comes in restricting caloric intake - the primal urge to eat when hungry is almost irresistible.
Many people who suffer from obesity also have disordered relationships with food, consuming food to quell uncomfortable emotions rather than for nutrition or the pleasure of eating. In fact, many among the obese in our state are food addicts, plagued by a constant desire to eat even when they are not hungry.
Obesity is not a character flaw. It is a medical condition requiring medical treatment. Sadly, the pain and emotional trauma of obesity often leads those with the disease to attempt self-treatment. Many obese persons try to lose their excess weight by means of gimmicks, fad diets, exercise programs, or so-called weight-loss pills. These efforts lead some to lose significant weight, but most quickly regain it after they discontinue their weight loss program. Many people suffer damage to their health as a result of such quickie "cures".
No miracle cure for obesity exists. The only way to successfully treat the disease of obesity is through medical care, based upon a complete change in the patient's lifestyle and eating habits. To beat obesity we must change the way Alabamans think about and relate to food, enabling us to eat better food and less of it.
For most of us, education, counseling, support, and willpower are enough to accomplish this. For the rest, another option exists: weight loss surgery.
About Weight Loss Surgery
Weight loss surgery is performed under general anesthesia. Most procedures are performed laparoscopically, though some may need to be performed through open surgery. The three main types of weight loss surgery are malabsorptive, restrictive, and combination, each with different risks and benefits. In each, however, the principle is the same: to surgically alter the patient's stomach and/or digestive tract in order to physically limit the amount of food the patient can eat at a given time. If successful, the surgical alterations will cause the patient to take in fewer calories each day than he or she burns, resulting in steady, safe weight loss.
Weight loss surgery can be a true lifesaver. However, it is not a magic cure for obesity; only a complete change in the patient's lifestyle and relationship to food can cure the disease. Patients who fail to follow postoperative instructions may regain any weight lost or reach a weight-loss plateau over time. The decision to undergo weight loss surgery is also irrevocable; currently, only the Lap-band procedure is reversible.
Those considering bariatric surgery as an option for the management of obesity should carefully weigh the risks and possible outcomes of these procedures in consultation with their physician prior to making a decision.
Alabama can win the war on obesity, but it will take time, money, and the will to win. By educating ourselves, supporting one another, and using weight loss surgery as a weapon of last resort, we can make our state healthier, happier, and a better place in which to live.