Half of us!

Just over half of us in Douglas County are obese. Marilyn Hull, executive director of LiveWell Lawrence pointed out that problem at a LiveWell meeting last night. To anyone who keeps up with news of any type, it’s no mystery that obesity can lead to all types of health problems: diabetes, heart disease, cancer, back problems, knee problems…the list goes on.

The many solutions posed to reducing obesity include more exercise, better foods in schools, a community that’s built to encourage walking, more education about eating right. And all those are important. But there’s a group of people who are obese for which none of that makes much of a difference. To these people, being overweight is not a problem, it’s a solution.

And fixing the obesity problem with diets, exercise programs, or advice about eating won’t have any effect for this group of people. “Nutrition is a nice subject and has nothing to do with obesity,” explains Dr. Vincent Felitti, a researcher who’s part of the ACE Study (Adverse Childhood Experience study), a multi-year project by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. “Teaching people about nutrition is essentially predicated on the assumption that people get fat because they don’t know any better.”

By the ACE Study’s estimate, there’s a link between child abuse – physical, sexual and verbal – and obesity in at least 8 percent of the obese population. If there are 70 million obese Americans, as the CDC says, that means that more than five million obese people are likely to have suffered physical, sexual and/or verbal abuse during their childhoods.

Here’s some math: About 115,000 people live in Douglas County. About 59,800 are obese. About 4,784 of those aren’t like to be helped by the most-talked-about methods of reducing obesity. And, according to Felitti, these are likely to be the people that have the most intractable health issues, i.e., the ones that cost individuals and the community the most, economically and emotionally.

How can our HealthCommons project help these obese adults, and address issues that are difficult to talk about? How do we help children who are traumatized by emotional, physical and sexual abuse so that they don’t engage in behaviors — overeating, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, doing other drugs — that hurt them? How do we make sure that we aren’t inadvertently traumatizing them further in our schools or health care systems? How do we help parents and relatives of these children stop the emotional, physical and sexual abuse?