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Summer heat linked to obesity

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Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2014 10:55 pm

The struggle to stay in shape is felt across America, where more than half of all adults are overweight. Now one study says living in the Rio Grande Valley could make things worse.

Research out of the University of Texas at Austin by Dr. Paul von Hippel, the study’s co-author, shows areas in America with hot and humid summers are also areas suffering the most from the obesity epidemic.

The study found that adults are less physically active — and more obese — in counties where summers are hot, especially if they are also humid or rainy.

“Around June or July here, it starts getting hard to think about going outside for a jog — or even a brisk walk — after work, which is close to the hottest part of the day,” von Hippel said.

In places like the Valley, where summer-like weather isn’t restricted to just a few months, von Hippel said the effects of the environment on health are apparent.

The Valley, familiar with year-round warm weather and humid summers, is experiencing highs in the 90s and lows in the 70s this month, according to the National Weather Service. And those high numbers match the prevalence of obesity.

In the Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties, more than 40 percent of all adults are clinically obese, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In each county, obesity is more prevalent in women.

Dawn Rodriguez, a registered nurse and director of the Medical and Surgical Weight Loss Program at Valley Baptist Medical Center, said climate is just one of many factors that have weighed heavily on the health of Valley residents.

“It’s the entire culture and the eating habits,” Rodriguez said. “A majority of people here originated from migrant workers, hard workers, with a history of eating high caloric foods such as tortillas and corn that produced a lot of energy that they burned off.”

However, Rodriguez said those days of high energy intake and high energy output are a thing of the past and a metropolitan lifestyle has led to this striking wave of obesity and diabetes.

Staying out in the heat for work is no longer a frequent requirement and bracing the heat for an after work walk in the park is a hard thing to sell to people, Rodriguez said.

But she said people have a misconception about what it means to get a good workout and eat healthy. Battling that misinformation is the task at hand.

“The biggest thing that hinders people from losing weight is not having the time and I completely sympathize,” Rodriguez said. “People automatically think, ‘I need 30 or 45 minutes to go to the gym,’ but one of the things I’ve seen research on is 10-minute high intensity walks to get your heart rate up, twice a day, are highly beneficial.”

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