by Sam Isaacs, Natasha Haskamp, Chelsea Gingras.

Richmond has found itself in the midst of a nation-wide health crisis, obesity. Its struggles were highlighted this spring after being voted the second fattest city in the country by the Gallup survey which tracks U.S. city wellbeing.

Experts believe the complexity of the disease makes it hard to treat. “Obesity has been on the national spotlight for years, but the numbers are still climbing. It is challenging because there are so many factors that can cause someone to be obese,” said Tom Baur Ph.D., professor of Biology at VMI.

Dr. Richard Atkinson, a leading obesity researcher at Obetech and editor of the International Journal of Obesity, feels that an unhealthy lifestyle is not the sole cause of obesity.

“A person can exercise and eat right, and still be obese, the physical condition and age of woman while pregnant can set up her child to be prone to obesity for life,”he said. Atkinson is also researching a potential virus that may have a direct link to the rise of obesity.

Obesity is found by weight divided by height squared, a number referred to as body mass index or BMI. If a person has a BMI of over 30, they are considered obese.

Whether it is in regards to children or adults, health officials and affiliates have recognized the ever growing issue, and are working to make Richmond a healthier place. With the Gallup survey showing a population obesity rate of 29.4 percent, the city has its work cut out for it.

According to Lee Charles of the Virginia Department of Health, 52.3 percent of Richmond’s adult population is physically inactive, and 73.5 percent gets less than the recommended amount of at least five servings of fruits or vegetables daily.

Baur believes that the cities problem’s may be cultural. “We live in a food toxic environment bombarded with fast food and food with high calories. Southern food typically is not the best for you and it is eaten widely in Richmond,” he said.

Katherine Vatalaro Hill, Assistant Director VCU’s Wellness Resource Center, has an active role in obesity awareness with both VCU and the city. She feels that Richmond’s obesity problems can be traced back to complex social economic issues.

“Wellness education and habits start at a young age. There are often links to poverty and education, and in  Richmond’s impoverished areas, kids are getting off to a bad start,” she said. “In poorer, crime filled areas, the initiative for children to play outside drastically drops, so you’ve also got a lot of kids not exercising.”

Hill noted that Richmond has few healthy produce selections in most of the impoverished areas, which creates unhealthy life choices, “There isn’t any local produce at many of the corner stores that people are getting their groceries from so a lot of people have no access to anything healthy at their normal grocery stops,” said Hill. She also pointed out that Richmond has taken notice of this and mapped out ‘food deserts’ or places where healthy food is not offered.

Though the battle against obesity is far from over, Richmond has recognized the importance of fighting it, and has taken initiatives to offer and educate it’s residents. “It is a serious issue, and with more research and healthier living, we hope to cut down on the local obesity rates,” said Baur.

The Wellness Resource Center promotes obesity awareness in Richmond.
Related links: