Obesity is a great challenge

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 6, 2005

I was torn between two desires, two responsibilities, two opportunities.

Both are important to our communities; both will pay community dividends; both are close to my heart.

I chose the Selma Summit on Obesity.

Email newsletter signup

You will see why.

As I stood before a crowd of 300, I struggled to share, “My Fight Against Obesity.”

I know obesity personally.

I know obesity in family.

I know obesity in the community, in the Black Belt, in the State of Alabama.

I know obesity as only those who have personally experienced it and fought with it in many battles, on various fronts, in a continuing war.

I was thankful to Dr. Lonnie Felton, his wife Helene, and others for pulling this summit together.

They had taken a chance on sharing their hopes, their concerns, and their vision.

It was paying off.

In sharing “My Fight Against Obesity”, I started with the impact of obesity in my family.

I shared two stories about my mother whose obesity resulted in diabetes.

I can share only one here.

At the end, my mother was lying in the UAB Hospital in Birmingham.

She had taken dialysis for years.

In her struggle with obesity and diabetes, her right foot had been cut off, then the lower right leg, then the right thigh up to the hip.

The same process had followed with her left foot, lower leg and upper thigh.

She had struggled so much and so hard.

She was truly tired.

She called her eleven living children to the bed and said, “Children I want ya’ll to release me so I can release ya’ll.”

We conferenced among ourselves, returned and said, “Mama, we release you.”

A few days later, she transitioned into another life.

To this day, I am intensely affected by my mother’s ordeal.

I am also impacted by five of my ten living siblings having diabetes.

When I go to the doctor, I don’t worry about cancer, heart attacks or other fear inducing-diseases.

(Although Dr. Felton says that many other diseases such as hypertension, heart attacks, stroke, certain cancers, etc. are much more likely in overweight/obese people).

I want the doctor to tell me is that I don’t have diabetes.

(And I don’t).

I am fighting obesity personally.

I have weighed well more than twice what I should.

I have lost and gained weight so many times I have lost count.

One time I lost 80 pounds and immediately gained 120 pounds.

Even now, after an even greater and continuing loss of weight, I am still obese.

In fighting obesity, I penned, “Death of a Fat Man” a novel in the form of a love letter from a grandfather to a four-year-old granddaughter.

John James, the grandfather, starts out sharing his life and death struggle grounded in obesity but also shares the hard-earned wisdom necessary to overcome any struggle.

I’m fighting for my granddaughter, all children and our people.

I know obesity from national, state, county and race perspectives.

The United States of America is the most obese (fattest) country in the world.

Alabama is the fattest state in the United States.

The Black Belt is the fattest region in the state.

Dallas County (Selma) is the fattest county in the region.

African Americans are the fattest people, in the fattest county, in the fattest state, in the fattest country in the world.

I know that so many being overweight/obese is the most pervasive health challenge in this country.

In the U.S., two of every three adults are obese/overweight.

No other health challenge comes close.

Even if we are not personally overweight/obese, we are touched by its ramifications.

It touches us in our pocketbooks with increased health care costs.

It touches us with additional pain and suffering.

It touches us with all kinds of personal struggles.

I know obesity in our children.

The rate of obesity in our young has increased multifold in the last 25 years.

The impact is frightening.

In 1995, not one Alabama child had been diagnosed with Type II diabetes.

Ten years later, one of every 10 persons diagnosed with Type II diabetes is a child.

I am fighting overweightness/obesity in our children through local as well as statewide programs.

I’m fighting it in adults through information and leadership.

I’m fighting it in myself through exercise, prayer, meditation and eating better.

No matter what we say, there are no short cuts in the fight against obesity.

As Dr. Felton said over and over, overweightness/obesity must be fought by consuming fewer calories via good eating habits and burning more calories through effective physical activity.

My mother would say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

I am embracing the challenge cast by overweightness/obesity.

Dr. Felton is also embracing the challenge.

I ask you to join us in embracing this great challenge.