Health Official: San Antonio’s High Obesity Rate ‘Not a Factory Defect’

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Campers practice yoga at American Diabetes Association camp.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Campers practice cobra pose during a yoga class at Camp PowerUp.

In order to keep San Antonio healthy and thriving for another 300 years, the community must address the epidemic of childhood obesity that has had a devastating impact both on the city and the state, local health leaders said Wednesday.

“Childhood obesity is preventable through community education and action,” said Linda Hook, assistant professor of nursing at the University of the Incarnate Word. “As our great city celebrates its 300th anniversary, [we aim] to address childhood obesity in an effort to raise awareness and positively impact quality of life.”

More than 50 community members gathered at Holy Spirit Hall on the city’s Eastside for a panel discussion to review the local prevalence of childhood obesity, what is being done, and what can be done to address issues, trends, and solutions.

The prevalence of obesity continues to rise in San Antonio. In 2014, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District reported that 71 percent of adults in Bexar County were overweight or obese. Of children aged 10-17 in Bexar County in 2013, 27 percent of black and Hispanic children were obese, as were 12 percent of white children, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As rates continue to increase across the state, Texas could be faced with a vastly overweight population – nearly 75 percent – by the year 2040, according to the Department of State Health Services.

Arming people with “helpful, healthful” information about how food customs, food choices, and related health issues impact future well-being is essential to improving public health and quality of life, said Hook, the panel moderator.

The Culinary Health Education for Families (CHEF) program at the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio is one local initiative that teaches children and families practical nutrition and basic cooking skills with the long-term goal of motivating people to adopt and sustain healthier eating habits.

Dr. Julie La Barba, medical director of the CHEF program, said that one of the biggest contributors to poor eating habits is parents who lack skills and confidence when it comes to preparing basic meals. As ready-made food options continue to increase, cooking in the home has declined, she said.

“Anything made in the home will be better than a [prepared] option” such as fast food and packaged to-go meals, La Barba said. “Your food and fitness environment are the things that you are surrounded by,” so community organizations have to create spaces that promote health.

CHEF (Culinary Health Education for Families) Program Director Maria Palma stands for a portrait in the Children's Hospital educational kitchen that is nearly complete.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Culinary Health Education for Families Program Director Maria Palma in the Children’s Hospital educational kitchen.

The CHEF program has six teaching kitchens, 72 instructors, and more than 150 doctors trained in culinary medicine who work with families to integrate healthy eating habits into their wellness plan. La Barba said she often encounters families looking to learn basic skills such as boiling water and cooking food in an oven.

The Social Health and Research Center, a local nonprofit that studies how genetics and environment contribute to chronic disease, works to combat childhood obesity through comprehensive evaluation of local and national programs and initiatives. Dr. Roberto Treviño founded the organization in 1991 by following five years of treating underserved communities in San Antonio as a primary care physician.

Treviño said at the core of obesity for any population is the accumulation of fat cells in the body, which begin forming at gestation and continue to fluctuate intermittently throughout puberty. Fat cells act like rubber bands, he explained, stretching and returning to their natural state. But when people gain more fat cells than they lose, they alter their biological make-up.

“We need to know this because obesity is not a factory defect,” Treviño said. “We were not born with obesity genes – it is being programmed developmentally by all of us” through personal decision-making.

When a mother is pregnant and consumes junk foods, he said, the fetus will develop taste buds that prefer those flavors; if a mother drinks water and eats healthy, the fetus will  favor those flavors. For this reason, Treviño said, enhancing access to wholesome foods and educating the community on how to prepare them will be key to a healthy San Antonio community, and will work to address physical health, oral health, academic ability, and more.

“To know the solution we have to know what caused this problem we got into,” Treviño said. “We need to respect [science] and work to address that which is in our control.”

6 thoughts on “Health Official: San Antonio’s High Obesity Rate ‘Not a Factory Defect’

  1. I am going to say this again like the last article on this. We need to place a sugar cap on companies producing large quantities of high sugar products that go completely unchecked. This isn’t a a sugar tax but an ask for social responsibility on corporations.

    I appreciate The RR bringing this up again though. But I feel the conversation about nutrition education is very demand side oriented and I think we should focus on suppy side as well. To leave supply side undiscussed kind of makes me feel as if they aren’t doing anything wrong and that in my opinion is false.

    • “Sugar cap” implies a mandate, which requires monitoring, which usually requires more taxes to support the monitoring from the FDA. Or not, if a non-profit is willing to conduct the monitoring (e.g. Consumer Reports)

      Thank you, too, RivardReport, for continuing this conversation, and making me aware . The demand side can continue to influence the supply side by enlightening, then encouraging, consumers to say “no” more to sugar and sodium laden foods, and providing the tools to prepare more healthier, homemade options.

      I would support more taxation on the SNAP-side, and then more monies provided for fresh food purchases (e.g. fresh fruits and vegetables get more monthly credit over canned fruits and vegetables) I am glad we both avoid a “sugar tax”, Andrew, but asking for social responsibility from a corporation seems a bit of a reach.

    • Sugar is a killer HEB does a great job at offering superb produce. You can’t take personal responsibility out of the equation. Maybe the city council should enact Sugar 21. Tough to enforce, though.

  2. Why is not her eminence the County Health Officer not part of this discussion? Oh, she’s busy with Tobacco 21.

  3. Obesity, I agree, is preventable. But prevention doesn’t pay, or at least not yet. To the detriment of humans in modern, western societies, abusing people by way of producing and offering cheap and damaging food-like substances to them, that does pay. It pays the corporations – the food cartels. Law backs them up. Forget morality.

    About a decade ago I began the transformation this article suggests. Over the years I educated myself about what I should and should not eat, and how much. I went through with my transformation with ease because I was highly motivated. My motivation was health; a desire to feel good, and a desire to help others if I ever felt I reached a certain point to do so. A desire to live like a real human being—to eat real food (most of the time).

    Not every family can make such a transformation. In some zip codes a transformation will just not add up mathematically at a checkout counter, although prices are better today than back when I started. Yet still, poverty (or borderline poverty) presents financial blocks. I agree with the response thought offered by Mr. Velis: the real problem here is supply-side economics.

    I think that the best education we can give people might start with a line like this: The way to address the obesity issue is to stop the abusers. Corporations will no longer be protected by the 5th Amendment (right to property – a paycheck) if what they gain from others causes public harm. No real human community would allow this (e.g. the human communities that lived here 301 plus years ago).

    Educate enough people about the array of preventable diseases and conditions that are caused by the cheaply priced products that consciously get placed on grocery aisles, and we’ll have the numbers that will be needed to stop those who are gaining through other people’s misery.

    I think that it is safe to say this: the food cartels could be stocking grocery aisles with healthy, non-damaging foods (yes, all of the shelves with non-toxic, real food), while allowing everyone in society to afford them. No rocket scientist needed with this notion. Problem? Well, it takes economists and a social hierarchy to order up the modern abusive system. Not a rocket scientist, not a real human being. Because bottom lines matter more than humans. Doesn’t sound very brotherly or motherly or neighborly does it? We do not live in genuine human communities, and we haven’t in a long time. Our DNA cries out for one thing, but we live out another.

    For those who are too cautious or fearful about what will happen when enough people make serious demands toward the corporate and the elected elite, don’t balk. History is on our side. Resistance does work.

    Ok, so when we consider the abusers today, we are talking about the same abusers who were slapped with the 13th Amendment in 1865 for having enslaved other human beings. We are talking about the same abusers who had their hands slapped for the horrors of child labor. We are talking about the same abusers who had to cry uncle during the Montgomery Bus Boycott (had to cry uncle because of their bottom line – because of the successful resistance). We are talking about the same abusers who got the green light to broadly spray toxins from the air across swaths of the U.S. in the 50s and 60s. We are talking about the same abusers who will have contaminated life-affirming aquifers, having contaminated them with frack water. We are talking about the same abusers at the Land Office who finally (yet only reluctantly) see the grounds of Mission San Antonio de Valero as a cemetery, albeit we know that their main inclination anyway is to profit off of 90 minutes from March, 1836. We are talking about the same abusers who arrived in the Yanaguana Valley on horseback 3oo years ago to commit genocide against the original inhabitants, human as well as non-human. And we are talking about the same abusers who later then brought in slave culture.

    We are talking about the same abusers who moved Southeastern Native Americans to Oklahoma in the 1830s, and the same abusers who pushed low income citizens of S.A. out of their homes along Mission Road in 2014 – San Antonio’s own trail of tears.

    We are talking about the same abusers who stood trial in Nuremberg in ’45 and ’46.

    Real human communities do not commit atrocities like these within. So who does commit these kinds of atrocities? Industrialized humans do, because the economic system requires a hierarchy, and it requires losers. In said hierarchy, economic development trumps the well being of humans.

    Go ahead and reread that paragraph.

    And we are talking about the same elected types here too; representatives who can only get elected if they legislate the favors necessary to keep their masters happy (those masters being the abusers). Our social system is not democratic enough. Not even close.

    So I agree. The issue of obesity is not about factory defects, which really leans toward blaming the victims. No, the issue of obesity is about an abusive arrangement of power that needs to be unearthed and teased out via education. The abusers have been stopped before, and they will be stopped again. The only question is when.

    Still nervous about even considering such resistance? Maybe you haven’t spent time in hospitals or hospices, or have had close friends or relatives who have suffered or passed away from the completely preventable epidemics that are inflicted upon the people who do their best to play along with what the current power structure offers.

    Let’s put the predictable and banal responses to rest — it is not about individual choices (blaming the victim again), and corporations resting on “we are only giving customers what they want”. The fact that our culture allows the production of doctored foods — foods that cause public harm — is socio-pathological. Those choices just need to disappear.

    I’m about 50 years old. I might outlive many people who are currently in their 20s and 30s, if the food cartels aren’t stopped. The impoverished can’t be blamed for not having access to knowledge and healthy foods, and for being impoverished. Who or what then is to blame? All roads lead to the profit system. Everything that we participate in every day. All of us. Time to see it for what it is, and time to open a discussion about how to dismantle it.

    Since the obesity problem is real and true, and is a problem of information, here is something worth discussing. If lawmakers, other elected officials, and CEOs are really moral entities, why haven’t they used their influence to encourage (or demand) the development of a public school curriculum that will educate young people (as I educated myself) about genuine health facts – real food, real nutrition? (Not lies). If you are following me, you know where I am going with this. They … are the masters. They generate social reality. It is their profits and their graft that they will not allow to dry up. Those profits, we know, generate social harm. They won’t change things because we ask nicely. Instead, they make large donations here and there, get their press and engineer their jolly commercials. We have fallen for it. For a long time.

    It is time that we shift our strategies.

    Let’s offer something much more rewarding for the people of San Antonio to celebrate in 2318. Let’s take away the rights abusers have today: the right to profit from harming others. What we’re celebrating this year incidentally is rooted in violence, abuse, and profound entitlements. Look around. Where are the original inhabitants? Where are their languages? Where are all the other creatures that once made up a healthy, everlasting environment?

    The abusers need to be stopped. They have normalized their abusive ways. It is time for us to normalize resistance.

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