Mississippi facing diabetes crisis from obesity epidemic

The Guardian

Thu, Jan 16, 2014 - Page 7

One-third of Mississippi’s population will have diabetes by 2030 and need costly care to stay alive, which will have a devastating impact on them and the US state’s economy, leading physician Richard deShazo said recently.

DeShazo, of the University of Mississippi’s medical center in Jackson, is one of a group of physicians and academics trying to warn families about the dangers and consequences of obesity, and teach them how to prevent their children from damaging their health.

Mississippi has long had the US’ highest obesity rate, dropping only slightly in the latest government survey to second as it was passed by Louisiana, where 34.7 percent of the population is obese, compared with 34.6 percent in Mississippi. Thirteen states — mostly in the south — have obesity rates of more than 30 percent.

The situation in Mississippi is dire, deShazo said.

The 2012 F as in Fat report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that Mississippi had the highest rate of type 2 diabetes in the US — 12.3 percent — based on 2010 figures. At the current rate of increase, deShazo said that figure would increase to one-third of the population by 2030.

Diabetes is one of the most problematic consequences of obesity, along with high blood pressure, stroke, cancer and damage to the joints of the leg, all of which result in disability. People with advanced diabetes can develop kidney failure and end up on regular dialysis to stay alive, in addition to being at risk of blindness and foot amputations.

The health problems are hitting people who would normally be earning money

“We’re seeing 30 and 40-year-old people getting type 2 diabetes that we used to see in 50 and 60-year-old people,” deShazo said. “So now that disability curve is shifting further and further to the left, to a younger and younger under or unemployable population.”

Major efforts by the university team may be paying off, as there has been a drop in child obesity rates, but that is only among the more affluent white population and does not include African-Americans or poor whites, deShazo said. Health literacy — the basic understanding of what causes you to get ill — is extremely low in the state.

Mississippi does not have the healthcare services in place to cope and 19 percent of its population is uninsured. It also has the lowest physician-to-patient ratio in the US.

The center has a federal grant to help people sign up for health insurance on the government’s Web site, but the only other organization in the state with a grant is the Oak Hill Missionary Baptist Church. Its pastor, Reverend Michael Minor, has been working to reduce obesity in the state since 1996.

“We talk about having the best healthcare [in the world] in America. We have got the best healthcare in America, for some people in America. For everybody else, we have got the worst healthcare, because they have got no access to it,” he said.