Alabama should pay attention to the needs of their heart

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 9, 2006

When you think of February, images of Valentine’s Day come to mind: flowers, candy, and especially hearts. It just so happens that the heart is the focal point of the month in more ways than one: February is also National Heart Disease Awareness Month.

Heart Disease has become an enormous problem across our nation, and especially in Alabama. According to the American Heart Association, over 71 million American adults have one or more types of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease has been the number one killer in the United States for the last hundred years and kills more people than the next four causes of death combined. Around 2,500 people die every day from some type of cardiovascular disease. Many factors can cause heart disease, but one of the biggest

is weight. Research has shown a strong link between obesity and heart disease. According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, people who are obese, or more than 30 pounds overweight, are 360 percent more likely to die from heart disease than people who are an average weight. Today more than two-thirds of Alabamians are overweight or obese.

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Currently, Alabama has the second highest rate of overweight people in the nation. In addition to health risks associated with obesity, there are also financial concerns. In 2004, Alabama spent $293 per person for health care costs related to obesity, which is the ninth highest amount in the nation.

Sweet tea and fried chicken are staples of our diet, yet the days of working the farm that used to sustain a diet like that are gone. Instead, many folks work at a desk all day and do not get nearly enough exercise. A lack of physical activity in the “super-sized” world of today can lead to unwanted pounds that can cause heart disease and many other health problems. Type II diabetes, stroke, and even certain types of cancer have all been linked to an excess in body fat.

It’s not just adults who are affected by obesity. Many of our state’s children are either overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Over 60 percent of children age five to 10 who are overweight are at risk for developing some type of heart disease in their lifetime. Right now, Alabama’s life expectancy rate is more than three years behind the national average. If the trend continues, our state’s children could be the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. In response to this epidemic, the House passed a resolution establishing the Legislative Task Force on Obesity. The purpose of the task force is to explore ways in which state government can help solve the crisis of obesity and improve overall health in Alabama.

Since its inception, the task force has identified several areas for improvement. They suggested medical interventions, such as recognizing obesity as a disease, providing appropriate treatments and therapy, and educating the public about medical alternatives. The task force also encouraged businesses to provide incentives, such as insurance plans that reward employees for achieving and maintaining a healthy life. Fighting obesity and heart disease will require a sustained effort from our government, businesses, schools and churches. However, the most important effort is the one required from each individual. By making an effort we can all do our part to lower obesity and fight heart disease. The Department of Public Health recommends a three-step approach to a healthier life. First, they recommend cutting 500 calories a day, which is the equivalent of one soda and one candy bar. Cutting 500 calories daily can result in losing one pound per week.

Second, they recommend increasing physical activity. The ideal amount of exercise is at least 30 to 45 minutes each day. However, if that is not realistic, try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or park farther away from your office or grocery store. A little exercise can go a long way.

Finally, they recommend behavioral changes, such as eating at the table instead of in front of the television, eating slower, or exercising portion control. The ADPH also recommends avoiding high calorie foods, and “eating the rainbow,” which includes fruits, vegetables, and other foods with bright colors.

If you have already started slacking on your New Year’s resolution to lose weight, take advantage of Heart Disease Awareness Month and get back on track. Remember your heart and take good care of it. So on Valentine’s Day, go easy on the chocolate and send flowers instead; your valentine and your heart will thank you in the long run.