Watchin' It


The delicious aroma of oatmeal raisin cookies greets me as I push open the office door. I attempt to rebel against the evil forces pulling me toward the scent. In recent months, there have been pounds' worth of weight-gaining opportunities in our back office area.

"I am not giving in this time," I tell myself, but my defenses sink as I come closer to the source of the aroma—a wicker basket full of homemade cookies. Next to the cookies, a Pyrex dish cradles a cooling chess pie, my favorite. My defenses break down. I grab a cookie and head straight for my desk. I'll be back for the chess pie.

Everywhere in the U.S., the holiday season is a never-ending smorgasbord of food. The New Year rolls in, and the vicious cycle of making resolutions to lose the weight we packed on during the holidays begins. But, by this time every year, we've usually abandoned our resolutions.

For most of us, it takes spring's warm weather to get us serious about weight loss again. Unfortunately, the delectable cuisine most people get to sample during the holidays is prepared year round in Mississippi. It's a reason we're the fattest place in America. Since I came back to Mississippi four years ago, 50 pounds have worked their way onto me, as if I had no part in the process. The joke is that you can get sweet tea at the state line.

Mississippi ranks first in the U.S. for the highest rate of obese and overweight adults at 67.3 percent, reports the Trust for America's Health, a non-profit organization advocating disease prevention. Mississippi also ranks number one in the percentage of adults with hypertension and second only to West Virginia with the highest percentage of adults with diabetes.

It all comes down to what we put in our mouths. Science says that if you burn more calories than you take in, you'll lose weight. Controlling portion sizes and exercising then becomes the challenge. It seems like an easy plan to follow. But in Mississippi, our deficiencies are expanding our waistlines and wrecking our health. Our greatest challenges include the lack of an advanced transit system, suitable sidewalks, secure parks and education to change our traditionally unhealthy recipes to healthy ones without losing flavor.

According to its Web site, JATRAN's hours of operation are 5 a.m.-7 p.m. in the city of Jackson. These hours do not accommodate the thousands who work alternate hours or who live outside city limits. It makes it necessary to own a car, and we spend countless hours commuting, sitting, with no real opportunity to exercise. The 2001 National Household Travel Survey tells us: "Americans who use transit spend a median of 19 minutes daily walking to and from transit; 29 percent achieve more than 30 minutes of physical activity a day solely by walking to and from transit. ... Rail users, minorities, people in households earning less than $15,000 a year, and people in high-density urban areas were more likely to spend more than 30 minutes walking to and from transit daily."

In 2004, Critical Pathways in Cardiology referred to research that found that of all U.S. deaths from major chronic disease, sedentary lifestyles account for 23 percent. If one-tenth of Americans began a regular walking program, we would save around $5.6 billion in heart disease costs. Blue Cross and Blue Shield's, "Let's Go Walking Mississippi" campaign is a great start. It promotes the benefits of walking and includes motivational tips, free tracking tools and a free pedometer. It also lists places to walk around Mississippi.

Belinda Jenkins, native Mississippian and owner of BJ's Special Occasions, began watching what she ate and working out because she wanted to look good for her daughter's graduation this May. Setting small and realistic goals have been the key to helping her shed 30 pounds in three months. Jenkins' goal is to maintain her current weight. "My biggest challenge is sweets and breads because that's what I like," she said last December. "I don't deprive myself and say no sugar; I eat it in moderation and have half a piece of chocolate cake." By May, Jenkins expects to lose 40 more pounds.

As for me, I devoured four oatmeal raisin and one chocolate chip cookie, a piece of chess pie and fried catfish for lunch today. But my defenses are strong. Tomorrow is a new day.

Previous Comments


Good job, Lea. Glad to see one of us writing something. I knew you would be the one to do it. Until recently, I didn't know you had a Baltimore background. One of my best friends live in Catonsville and I've visited Baltimore and Catonsville more times than I can count.

Ray Carter

Blue Cross and Blue Shield's, "Let's Go Walking Mississippi" campaign is a great start. It promotes the benefits of walking and includes motivational tips, free tracking tools and a free pedometer. It also lists places to walk around Mississippi. Those commercials tickled me. There's one where Marsha Barbour goes into the governor's office and says, "Haley, let's go walking!" Guv agrees, but you never see him get up. :-P



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