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January 28, 2013

VSU professor studies weight loss in rural areas

VALDOSTA — The food culture in South Georgia is not exactly conducive to healthy eating. We eat bacon and grits for breakfast, fried chicken for lunch, and beef and bread rolls for dinner. It’s good, but it’s not good sense, according to health experts.

Dr. Myron Faircloth, professor of adult gerontological nurse practitioners and doctor of nursing practice at GNG Family Medicine, grew up in South Georgia and noticed the obesity epidemic in the United States, especially in rural areas, in particular, of Georgia.

Through his doctoral project, Faircloth began examining not only the food culture in the South, but also the complexity of popular diets.

“If people don’t understand the diets, they won’t follow the directions,” said Faircloth. “If you make something so hard, you quit.”

Overweight is defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9, while obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 and above. Faircloth’s research shows that in 2009, it was determined that 32.7 percent of U.S. citizens were overweight, while an additional 34 percent were obese and an additional 6 percent were considered morbidly obese. That means that obese people actually outnumber overweight people in the U.S.

Obesity is a major contributor to many health problems such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes — an adult onset disease that plagues 90 percent of the 18 million people with diabetes in the U.S., metabolic syndrome, hypertension, sleep disorders, cardiovascular mortality, and arthritis. In addition, Faircloth found that obesity has been linked as a contributor to 100,000 cases of cancer per year.

While diet and exercise have long been the foundation for successful weight loss, Faircloth examined the vagueness of the concept for people who have never been educated on what it means to eat healthy and effectively exercise.

In 2011, Faircloth had 18 participants (only six of whom completed the study) that he solicited from his practice in Nashville, Ga. with Dr. Rick Wheeler. All of the participants were 18 or older, had a BMI of at least 30 and at least an eighth-grade reading level.

“They had to attend a class once a week for four weeks,” said Faircloth.

He made every participant take a food frequency questionnaire prior to the class to get an idea of eating habits. He evaluated criteria such as chicken and beef intake, sugar intake, etc. Aside from educating participants in what it means to eat well and exercise, Faircloth made each participant keep a food journal.

“When I did a literature review, I found the diet logs to be very effective,” said Faircloth.

This process not only gets the patient involved in their health care, but it helps pinpoint what things each participant does wrong.

“When you look through the diet log, you can say, ‘Here’s where you ate bad’,” said Faircloth.

For Faircloth, food awareness is one of the most important and effective aspects in successful weight loss.

“It empowers the individual to be involved in their own health care,” he said.

Often, a doctor will see a patient with a weight problem and give them weight pills.

“It’s an appetite suppressant, but do you keep the weight off?” Faircloth posed.

The answer is no.

“Diet pills are not the way to lose weight,” said Faircloth. “They help, but they are not the solution.”

In health care, there is often a lack of education.

The model for weight loss must focus on the individual’s beliefs and attitudes related to the following areas: perceived susceptibility, perceived severity, perceived benefits, and perceived barriers.

If the patients are not aware of their weight problems, don’t recognize the risks, and fail to see the benefits, things such as diet pills are inefficiently used.

“The key is to educate them,” said Faircloth. “Empowering them in their own health care.”

Faircloth’s study evaluates knowledge of healthy eating and educates participants on healthy food and healthy meal portions.

He tackled the idea of exercise and explained its many forms. For example, if your schedule keeps you from running six miles, walk a few laps around the track.

Faircloth took into account the high cost of healthy and organic eating. “Value is a problem in healthy eating,” said Faircloth.

Success depends on molding a plan for a healthy weight based on common-sense facts rather than books, charts and calorie counting.

“I took that basic food pyramid and said, ‘What are your basic vegetables? What is your serving size?’” Faircloth said. “My goal was to test their knowledge of healthy eating levels.”

While weight loss would be the eventual, end-all goal, that wasn’t necessarily Faircloth’s goal.

Through his study of obesity in rural areas and his evaluation of the effectiveness of diet logs, Faircloth examined a diet fit for the ordinary person.

Everyone may not be able to afford all organic produce, top shelf meat cuts, or a gym membership and may not have the time to run a mile everyday, but most can still effectively diet and stay healthy through a common-sense approach.

For Faircloth, exercise how you can, eat in sensible portions, choose healthier options over sugar (like grapefruit over Fruit Loops), follow the food pyramid, be conscious about what you are putting into your body, and overall, understand that you are in control of your body and you alone can take control of your health care.

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