Battling Obesity in Arkansas

JONESBORO, AR  (KAIT)  --  Over the last 10 years, Craighead county has seen a 10% increase in the number of people who are overweight or obese. Health officials throughout the state said more people need to be educated about healthy eating habits and exercise.

"The problems that obesity brings to our patient population are increased heart disease, increased cholesterol, stroke, diabetes, osteoarthritis, all of those things are very much related to obesity," said Dr. Joe Stallings, Health Officer for Craighead county.

According to, 63% of residents in Craighead County were overweight or obese in 2004, and that number has been rising. In 1998, 55% of residents were classified as overweight.

Doctors said it's not known what exactly is causing people to exercise less and eat more, but some believe it's a cultural thing. In the past, people didn't have computers and video games to hold their attention. Today, it's hard to find a child who hasn't used a computer of some kind.

"The whole United States. We are in a epidemic of obesity, but particularly in the state of Arkansas, our delta area has been a hotbed of obesity," said Dr. Stallings.

Officials are trying to inform people at an early age about the harmful effects of obesity. For the last few years, schools have been doing BMI tests on students, designed to track a child's weight to make sure they don't get too heavy.

"The most important thing over the last few years we've done is BMI determination on whether the children are obese, and sent it back to the parents. It goes every other year. They're measuring it now so that the parents get a red flag. My kids are getting too big. They need to exercise more. I need to, as a parent, need to pay more attention to their food intake," said Dr. Stallings.

However, some parenting experts said the BMI tests can also lead to mental health problems. Telling a child they are too big could give them a lower self-esteem. There are ways to tell a child to lose weight without harming their self-esteem. To find out how, click here.

"It's one of the most successful things that happened in the United States and actually, all the other states. And there are other states that do it, but they're trying to look at Arkansas and say, this is really a pretty easy thing to do, and it may be very effective," said Dr. Stallings.

Health officials said the best way to prevent obesity in everyone is education.

"I think that education, as far as diet, is important because most people don't have an idea. They think they're drinking a small coke, but the coke might have 100 calories in it, or 150 calories," said Dr. Stallings.

"It's not just children, it's adults too. We've all got a lot to do, and we don't take that 20-30 minutes every day that we should, get out and walk. We don't take the stairs. We go on the elevator. We don't get as far away from WalMart to walk in. We try to get as close as we can. Studies have shown that people who live in big cities have less obesity because they do a lot more walking. From work to this, that and the other, there needs to be a development of culture of exercise and fitness and we feel like focusing on children is where we need to have them get the idea so that they can help retrain their parents," said Dr. Stallings.