More than one in every four Mahoning County adults is obese.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
araine Solvesky walks through the salad bar line in the St. Elizabeth Health Center cafeteria and grabs a lunch of lettuce, crackers and boiled egg. She adds a cranberry muffin and diet Pepsi.
Solvesky, 47, said she's "terrible with diets" and has trouble sticking with them.
Like many Americans, she'd like to lose weight, maybe 20 to 25 pounds.
In her effort, she's tossed aside diets and instead tries to reform her eating habits. Solvesky, who works at St. Elizabeth, said she learned her new eating habits after attending the Slim Down program at the hospital last year.
She's turned her back on fast food and deep frying and thinks before she eats. She takes a walk on the treadmill each night. (During warmer months, she and husband Gary walk outdoors.)
And, besides losing a few pounds, Solvesky has found other benefits.
"I have more energy than I have ever had," said the mother of 19- and 21-year-old sons. "My goal is to be healthy, definitely happy, and fit."
Solvesky is on the right track, and an example of what more Ohioans and Americans should be doing, according to local, state and national experts.
Report: Last month, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report urging Americans to decrease obesity. In 1999, an estimated 61 percent of American adults and 13 percent of children were overweight or obese; obesity among adults has doubled since 1980, and the number of overweight adolescents has tripled.
The 300,000 deaths each year associated with being obese or overweight compare to 400,000 annual deaths associated with smoking.
In Ohio, about 21.5 percent of adults -- more than one in five -- are obese, said Kristopher Weiss, a spokesman for the department of health. In 1995, about 10 percent were obese. The prevalence of overweight adults rose from 28 percent in 1984 to 37 percent in 1999.
Locally: In Mahoning County, 25.7 percent of adults are obese, Weiss said. Statistics were not available for Columbiana and Trumbull counties.
Each year across Ohio, an estimated 17 percent of all cardiovascular disease deaths -- or 7,400 -- are attributed to obesity, Weiss said.
In Pennsylvania, the obesity rate increased from 16.1 percent in 1995 to 20.7 percent in 2000, according to statistics from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the Pennsylvania Health Department, rates were unavailable for Mercer and Lawrence counties.
Calculations: The CDC determines if a person is overweight or obese by figuring body mass index based on weight and height. To determine BMI, divide a person's weight (in pounds) by height (in inches), divide by height again and multiply by 703. A person with a BMI of 25 or higher is overweight; a person with a BMI of 30 or higher is obese. Someone who is 5 feet, 6 inches, is overweight at 155 pounds and obese at 186 pounds.
Health problems associated with obesity include type two diabetes (also called adult onset diabetes), cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, asthma, gall bladder disease, arthritis, pregnancy complications, depression and some types of cancer, including cancer of the uterine lining, colon, gall bladder, prostate and kidney, and post-menopausal breast cancer. Obesity can also aggravate respiratory problems.
Although type two diabetes used to strike only in adulthood, cases are now being seen in children, some as young as 8 or 9, Weiss said.
Keeping it off: Even a small weight loss can help decrease health risks associated with being overweight, as long as that loss is sustained, said Bridget Lackey, director of the Slim Down program at St. Elizabeth.
Lackey said she has seen more weight in the Mahoning Valley in recent years. But with that, she said, more people are becoming interested in eating better.
In the past year, enrollment in the program was about 100 people, Lackey said. That number increased by 20 percent over the previous year.
Factors: One reason for weight gain is that people are more concerned about economy, Lackey said. They buy "super" sizes of burgers and fries because it's a better deal than the smaller size. Shoppers buy an extra bag of potato chips at the grocery store because they're on sale.
Florine Mark, president and CEO of Weight Watchers Group, said the number of overweight and obese adults has risen dramatically since she started working with Weight Watchers. She compared today's 61 percent with 25 percent 25 years ago.
One reason is that people are pressed for time, she said, because more parents are working. They turn to fast food and foods prepared at the supermarket, instead of cooking more healthy meals on their own.
Also lost are the calories burned when cooking and cleaning up after themselves.
Further, Mark said, people have less time for exercise, and new subdivisions, like those being built in the Midwest, have no sidewalks for walking or bicycling. Computer habits, television and electronic games keep both children and adults more sedentary.
Small goals: Mark said the Weight Watchers program focuses on an easy way to break bad habits and helps people learn to lose 10 percent of their body weight at a time. Instead of looking to lose an overwhelming 40 pounds, a person will lose 10 pounds four times.
Although the changes increase health, they also help in other ways.
"I think it's really important for people to really get into their soul and really get into their mind and recognize that some things are more important than the taste of ice cream or the taste of fried chicken or the taste of peanuts," Mark said. "It's about waking up in the morning and looking at yourself and feeling good."