Archived Story

County battles obesity issues

Published 12:02pm Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles addressing the struggles with obesity within Tallapoosa County.

When one thinks of major health issues facing today’s population, diseases like AIDS or cancer may come to mind.

However, there is a larger problem that faces our county today – and it’s one that is far from an isolated issue: our waistlines.

“Obesity is the biggest health problem in the United States,” said Dr. Dimo Popov, who specializes in internal medicine and nephrology at Fresenius Dialysis.

The Alabama Department of Public Health defines obesity as having a BMI of 30 or more, which is equivalent to about 30 or more pounds above the appropriate weight as dictated by height.

In Tallapoosa County, 32.97 percent of the population fit this definition in 2010, and Popov says an even larger percent of his patients are obese.

“Pretty much 80 percent of everyone that comes here (is obese),” Popov said. “It is something that is very, very common.”

Tallapoosa County’s obesity rate is barely less than the national average, which is 35.7 percent of all U.S. adults, according to the Center for Disease Control.

According to the CDC, obesity increases the risk factors for the following conditions: coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, cancers, hypertension, high cholesterol, stoke, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis and gynecological problems.

Popov said that obesity disturbs the body’s natural hormonal balance.

“The fatty deposits function like endocrine organs, which means the fatty deposits produce bad hormones that make us sick – (at the same time) the fatty deposits are soaking up all the good hormones which makes them unavailable for the body to use,” Popov said.

Obesity also puts undue pressure on your entire body, Popov said.

“It’s extra stress on your body – it’s like walking everywhere you go with a sack of stones on your back that weighs 100 pounds,” Popov said. “(It) wears your joints out and can make you feel tired all the time.”

The problem itself is caused by an energy imbalance – that is, there are more calories coming in and not enough being burned through physical activity.

“You barely see people playing in the streets anymore,” Popov said. “Everyone is on the couch watching television or playing a video game. Combine no activity with large portions and fatty meals, and (obesity) is what you are going to have.”

Popov said that medical costs associated with obesity are so high that insurance companies are dropping coverage on those classified as obese. In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion.

“Insurance companies are starting to decline patients because of certain levels of obesity,” Popov said. “I have had some soldiers come in that were told they would be discharged if they didn’t lose weight. The government has been getting very serious about obesity.”

Losing weight can help get your body out of the obesity BMI range, which in turn can have serious positive effects on health. Popov said his heaviest patient started at 450 pounds, and the biggest weight loss he has seen by one of his patients is 135.

“If you are serious about (losing weight), can it be done? Yes. Will it be better for you? Yes,” Popov said. “It is never too late to start depleting the fatty deposits.”

Popov says dropping this amount of weight is not a quick process.

“It takes some time and hard work,” Popov said. “(Losing that much weight) is a lifestyle change, not just a quick fix for the summertime.”

Popov assured, however, that the hard work is worth it.

“People within a healthy weight range have the smallest occurrence of medical conditions and the longest lifespan,” Popov said. “Obesity shortens life span – there is no question about that.”