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Alabama has a weighty issue

Alabama currently has the highest percentage of diabetes in the nation, at 9.6 percent, and the number of Alabamians who are obese is more than half the population, which ranks Alabama 7th highest. Local nutrition experts have weighed in on the fight against the expanding problem.

There is a link to the diseases, said registered dietitian Julie Gambril of Andalusia, but she added there are ways to prevent the epidemic from spreading.

"The combination of exercise and good eating habits is the best way to lose weight and to maintain a healthy lifestyle," Gambril said. "Brisk walking for 30 minutes at least 5-7 times a week is recommended. It's important for people who aren't used to exercising to start off slow, walking between 15 and 20 minutes for a mile, but to work themselves up to the 5-7 times."

It's important not to cut certain foods out from a diet, according to Gambril, and not blindly follow diet trends.

"Eat moderately and don't splurge," she said. "Most of the time small portions are the key when eating. If a person goes to MacDonald's, I tell them to get a kid's meal, because that's all you need. Watching the portions of meals is important, and people shouldn't eliminate all carbohydrates.

"The fad-diets are very risky, because they haven't been studied enough," she continued. "People want the quick fix, but many people should eat more normally."

Gambril said fads such as the Atkins diet and "sugar-busters" could potentially cause more problems than they tend to fix.

"I think in theory he was on to something," she added, "But we don't know the long-term effects with the Atkins plan. He saw the extremes of carbs and people saw that, but if people read the whole book, they'd see they eventually add carbs back into their diets."

"I'm teaching AEC employees Tuesday and Thursday for 30 minutes during their lunch break," Gambril said. "I also teach at the chamber, and Bette Reynolds was nice enough to lend us space for the class. I currently have two people in the class, but I would like to have at least 10."

Gambril also was recently certified in adolescent weight problems during a seminar last week.

"It's overwhelming how many children between the ages of 9 and 10 are insulin resistant," she said. "An estimated 70 percent of adolescents with diabetes can be attributed to obesity. It really is frightening."

Not only does obesity attack a child physically, but mentally and socially as well, added Gambril.

"It affects the entire well-being of a child," she said. "And kids can be mean to one another. In a recent survey, children were given pictures of three other kids to view. One was normal looking, one had a physical handicap, and the other was overweight. The children were asked to rank the pictures from greatest to least, and even small children said they would be more likely to have a handicapped friend than an overweight friend. So, obesity has the potential of causing a lot of social problems, alongside other issues."

"It's terrible the problem (obesity) is striking children," Janet Atkinson, another registered dietitian in the area said. "It has become a serious epidemic."

Although Body Mass Index (BMI) may not be a sole determining factor of a kid's ideal weight, if used in conjunction with other information, such as if a kid has reached puberty yet, could be important in deciding weight loss for the child, according to Gambril.