Both the contest and Hilburn’s address were part of the West Side Health Care Task Force’s fourth annual Healthy Choices Summit, an event that aims to promote healthful habits among West Side residents.
“You just have weighed out. Now, it’s time for the work to begin,” proclaimed Patterson Mayor Luis Molina before Hilburn’s speech.
Molina stressed that healthy habits should be not just a personal priority but also a community concern, and Hilburn’s talk about “The Skinny on Obesity” similarly advocated more regulations on food sales. The family-practice doctor argued that processed foods made with sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are literally killing Americans.
“This food we are eating has whacked us out,” Hilburn said. “We have some wacky metabolisms going on.”
Hilburn showed slides of a U.S. map showing the expansion of obesity as a problem in the United States during the past three decades. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has declared that any adult with a body mass index of 30 or higher is obese.
While 5 percent to 6 percent of Americans were obese in the early 1980s, charts showed that some states in the South now have populations that are more than 30 percent obese. In California, 20 percent to 24 percent of people are considered obese, Hilburn said.
Some people have suggested that the surge in average weight resulted from fat consumption and sedentary lifestyles, but more recent research shows that is not the case, Hilburn said. Instead, the obesity problem stems from easy access to high-calorie processed foods, he said.
Hilburn said the federal government’s decision to subsidize the corn market in 1973 led to a surge in products made with high-fructose corn syrup, and that contributed to the U.S. obesity problem. Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup blocks the brain’s response to leptin, a hormone that controls the appetite, he explained.
Some of the same long-term health effects caused by excessive alcohol consumption, such as heart disease, cancer, dementia and high blood pressure, can be produced by chronic fructose exposure, Hilburn said.
For that reason, he recommended limiting sugar intake and increased regulations, such as a ban on soft drinks and fruit drinks at schools, a tax on sodas and an end to federal corn subsidies. Hilburn predicted that today’s “sugar days” will someday seem as absurd as the “cigarette days” of his youth, when tobacco was considered to have few ill health effects.
Several attendees at the Healthy Choices Summit said they found Hilburn’s presentation enlightening.
Teresa Hernandez and Albertina Reynoso worked at a booth for the Patterson Promotoras, a group of Latino volunteers that focuses on community health education, during the seminar. Both women said they hoped Hilburn’s message could be translated into Spanish at future meetings in Patterson.
Reynoso said diabetes is a growing problem within the Latino community, so the doctor’s message would be particularly relevant.
Molina said he hoped the cities of the West Side would incorporate more policies to foster healthy living. In the future, he thought it would be beneficial to seek a grant for a “wellness wagon” to travel around town, offering subsidized fruits and vegetables to local residents at reduced rates.
Adam Gray, the Democratic candidate for the 21st State Assembly District, which encompasses the West Side of Stanislaus County and all of Merced County, also attended the health summit and advocated for “a measured response” to nutrition-related policymaking. He noted that some schools had already taken steps to improve children’s health by banning sugary drinks. At the same time, he said requiring all restaurants to post the caloric values of all of their foods, could be burdensome for small businesses. The state now only requires restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to provide such information.
“I think you need to consider all implications when you look at health care policy,” he said.
The summit was hosted by the Westside Healthcare Advisory Taskforce, a public-private consortium of health care proponents in the Patterson, Newman and Gustine areas that aims to address health care needs on the West Side.
Teams competing from Patterson in the Biggest Loser Contest are sponsored by the City of Patterson, Patterson Joint Unified School District, local gym Patterson Health & Fitness and the Patterson Promotoras. The other three teams are from the cities of Newman and Gustine and from Newman-Crows Landing School District.
A team from Patterson Health & Fitness won last year’s event. The Patterson Promotoras had the runner-up team.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who helped organize the Aug. 23 summit, is a member of the City of Patterson team. During last year’s contest, he lost 14 pounds, he said. He noted that the health care task force had already improved health care offerings on the West Side by promoting West Side Walks, which opens up public venues, such as Patterson Community Stadium, to walkers on a weekly basis. In addition, the city of Patterson offers community biking, hiking and kayaking programs.
Officials who spoke at the summit, including Joe Oliveira, Gustine mayor pro-tem, said all such efforts are important, as the West Side must address myriad health care challenges, including a lack of hospitals there.
“History shows us that if we don’t take care of ourselves on the West Side, then there’s not a whole lot of people who will come and do it,” Oliveira said.
• Jonathan Partridge can be reached at 892-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.