Obesity along the U.S.-Mexico border has become a massive
Border counties in Texas have an obesity rate almost 30 percent higher than counties in the rest of the state, and 37 percent higher than the national average, according to 2011 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And the problem doesn't end at the Rio Grande. Last week, a study from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization found Mexico is most the obese nation in the Americas, surpassing the United States.
With those facts as a backdrop, state, local and federal officials from the U.S. and Mexico on Tuesday wrapped up the first day of the U.S.-Mexico Obesity Prevention Summit at the McAllen Convention Center. The event will continue Wednesday and half the day on Thursday. It was organized by the Office of Border Health, an office within the Texas Department of State Health Services.
"We do have an obesity epidemic on our border," said Kathie Martinez, a project administrator with the Office of Border Health. "We do have a problem and we need to do something about it."
The summit included a visit by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs, who also spoke at the McAllen Public Library about the economic impact of obesity as a public health issue. At the library, she announced "a partnership with the Texas Library Association to provide all public libraries and more than 1,100 public elementary schools with nutrition and fitness-related books and DVDs geared to children and pre-teens in the fight against obesity," according to a news release from her office.
The summit provided an opportunity for representatives from hospitals and government agencies from both sides of the border -- and from Brownsville to Tijuana -- to discuss various approaches to the large-scale issue of obesity.
"All these people here have different perspectives on how to tackle the problem," said Jorge Bacelis, who also works in the Office of Border Health.
The idea of the summit isn't so much to tell people how things are, but rather a chance for people in similar situations across the border region to connect with each other and swap data, analyses and points of view.
"There's nothing we can tell (attendees) that they don't already know," Bacelis said.
Attendees of the summit hoped to take home lessons from the summit.
"I'd really like to see what other folks from around the border are doing to address our healthy eating and active living," said Susan Kunz, the chief of health and wellness at Mariposa Community Health Center in Nogales, Ariz. "I figured there'd be some interesting people here from mostly Texas and Mexico."
Tuesday's schedule included speakers, networking opportunities and demonstrations on healthy cooking by McAllen chefs.
Even though most of the attendees on Tuesday were already aware of the degree of the obesity problem in the border region, the event gave them an opportunity to reinforce their commitment to fighting it. Plus, there's always more to learn.
"One of the speakers was talking about (how) people do think it's more expensive to eat healthy, but she was saying how in the long run it saves you so much," said Esther Ma, a student research assistant at the University of Texas-San Antonio in the Health and Kinesiology Department. "It was something that I'd always known, but this makes it tangible."
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