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ALAN TURNER — UMMC: Tackling Mississippi’s obesity epidemic

ALAN TURNER

ALAN TURNER

Obesity has emerged as one of the single most detrimental health factors impacting Mississippians. Sadly, Mississippi leads the nation in overall rates of obesity as well as obesity-associated illness and associated chronic disease burden.

We all know what overeating does to us – too much rich and fried food, too much sugar, too many starchy foods, too much fast food. It makes us fat, and keeps us that way. And health care costs are soaring as a result. In fact, according to in-formation from UMMC, health care costs for those with body mass index above 40 are estimated to be 81 percent higher than the non-obese. Obviously, that’s terrible both from the quality of life perspective and from a cost perspective. So what can be done about this?

Obviously, there is a major need for education, counseling, and support, at every level of Mississippi society, and there are a number of programs that are attempting to do just that.

Dr. Kenneth Vick, professor of surgery and a key player in the growth of UMMC’s bariatric surgery program, chats with patient Chanci Stewart of Ridgeland, who lost 140 pounds after undergoing bariatric surgery at UMMC.

Dr. Kenneth Vick, professor of surgery and a key player in the growth of UMMC’s bariatric surgery program, chats with patient Chanci Stewart of Ridgeland, who lost 140 pounds after undergoing bariatric surgery at UMMC.

What about those who simply cannot seem to deal with the problem, and who become morbidly obese?

The UMMC’s bariatric surgery program is one solution. The program as recently received accreditation for its work from the American College of Surgeons. Currently, Medicaid in Mississippi excludes bariatric surgery as a part of chronic disease management, one of only two states in the nation to do so (the other is Montana).

We spoke with Dr. Kenneth Vick recently, associate professor of surgery and a key player in UMMC’s bariatric surgery program, to learn how UMMC’s program helps those who are otherwise beyond help in contending with obesity.

Dr. Vick grew up in Texas, attended the University of Texas, and took his surgical residency at UMMC, then wound up staying.

“I felt this was the best place to make an impact on a truly serious problem,” he said. “We’re definitely on an unsustainable track as far as the growth in the obesity rate is concerned, and it really does contribute to many other diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and more.”

Vick does all of the bariatric surgeries at UMMC, as many as 200 per year. On a side note, it’s kind of an “all in the family” proposition for the Vicks. His wife is also a surgeon who performs primarily breast cancer surgery.

Bariatric surgery has had its share of detractors, of course, including many who claim that people find ways to regain the weight and go back to their abusive life-styles.

“That’s not generally correct,” said  Vick. “There are those cases where pa-tients do regain weight, but the majority will see good long-term outcomes.”

Vick believes that there are signs of progress in Mississippi, as difficult as things may be at present.

“I think we’re poised to make significant progress in the coming years,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of support in the education community, as well as in the busi-ness community.”

He sees the psychological factors as being very important.

“We all need to see ourselves as healthy and sound,” he said. “Certainly, none of us wants to die an early death due to the health problems associated with obesity, and it seems clear that obesity can take 10 years or more off of an indivi-dual’s life span.”

UMMC works very closely with its bariatric patients, before and after the procedures, providing counseling and support to help the patient live a new and health-ier lifestyle.

Vick feels that he has made a real difference in the lives of patients and their families, and “that’s exactly what I most want to do”, he said.

For further information on obesity and bariatric surgery, CLICK HERE.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at alan.turner@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1021.

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