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Victoria and neighboring cities battle the bulge against fatty recognition

By JR Ortega
May 18, 2010 at 12:18 a.m.
Updated May 19, 2010 at 12:19 a.m.

Manny Villareal stair steps during his workout at The Heat gym. Villareal lost 31 pounds in a 10-12 week period as a participant in the Biggest Loser challenge.

TOP 10 FATTEST CITIES IN THE NATION

1. Corpus Christi

2. Charleston, W. Va.

3. El Paso

4. Dallas

5. Memphis, Tenn.

6. Kansas City, Mo.

7. San Antonio

8. Baltimore, Md.

9. Houston

10. Birmingham, Ala.

Adjusting to waking up at 5 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays for 12 weeks straight was not easy for Manny Villareal, but he needed to change.

Now 31.6 pounds lighter, the 50-year-old Victoria native and Atzenhoffer car salesman continues to beat the battle of the bulge by working out at The Heat Fitness.

Villareal is one of many Texas residents trying to show not everything is bigger in Texas despite a recent article and both-gender study in Men's Health magazine, which ranked five Texas cities among the fattest in the nation, one being Corpus Christi - only an hour and a half away.

So is Victoria County the belt holding back the fat or is it just another fat roll on Corpus Christi's belly?

Villareal thinks Victoria is ahead of the game when it comes to fitness.

"I would think we are closer to Austin," said Villareal in terms of fitness. "We have a lot of gyms, sports, a lot of bicyclists and competitive running."

Villareal recently competed in a local "The Biggest Loser" challenge, a jump start weight-loss program named after the NBC show.

With a starting weight of 267 pounds, Villareal is now down to 236 pounds and counting.

Racquetball is a big part of Villareal's life and he wanted to lose weight and become healthier to improve his skill and competitive edge, he said.

The program involved plenty of cardiovascular exercise, weight lifting and talk about nutrition and diet.

All this, plus successfully losing weight, had never been easy, he said.

"You have to have a plan or else you're going to plan to fail," Villareal said.

A complaint Villareal had, that he knows others have as well, is not having enough time to exercise.

The truth is, there is time, you just have to want and make it, he said.

Though Villareal feels there is a large chunk of the Victoria community that is active, he said the convenience of having fast food down main roads, like Navarro, is making society more unhealthy.

What it boils down to is demographics, said Eugenia Blomstrom, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Houston-Victoria Sugar Land campus.

Tami Brzozowski, fitness coordinator at Citizens Healthplex, agreed.

The high diabetes and obesity rates in the Hispanics, a population which makes up a high percentage of people in South Texas, is what add to the region's obesity problem.

"We're probably not too far behind Corpus Christi," Brzozowski said.

Like Villareal, Brzozowski said fast food restaurants at every turn and stop is not helping make America, more specifically Victoria, very fit.

"There is fast food everywhere," she said. "That's just how America is now."

However, Brzozowski does not believe Victoria is as active as Villareal feels it is.

"I lived in Austin for a while. Austin is a such a bike-friendly kind of town," she said. "You don't see a lot of that in Victoria."

It's free activity like bicycling and healthy food choices that Blomstrom is fighting for.

Blomstrom received a grant from the governor's office in April to help develop a fitness program with the mayor in Sugar Land.

She expects for the effects from the program in Sugar Land to trickle down into Victoria fairly soon because the two cities have roughly the same obesity makeup, she said.

"It's a burden to society," Blomstrom said about the obesity trend. "Obesity is a problem."

The program will look at already implemented programs, like the one in Houston and Abilene, which have had a gradual positive effect on obesity.

Sugar Land's program will revolve around eating healthier and using a lot of free and accessible fitness tools like parks and tracks. Free tests for blood pressure, blood sugar and other obesity risk factors as well as working with gyms toward creating a healthier community are also in the plans, she said.

"We aren't going to reinvent the wheel, we're going to enhance it," she said.

The problem is not so much obesity as it is the outcomes and risk factors an obese person faces.

Victoria is no stranger when it comes to high cases of heart attacks, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, she said.

Victoria County is 79 percent obese compared to the whole of Texas, which sits at 65 percent, Blomstrom said, citing a 2001 to 2007 cardiovascular health facts study.

"My thinking is it falls in the same place comparatively with Corpus Christi," she said.

The same study shows the county at 16.4 percent with diabetes and the state at 10.4 percent, a number which shows exactly how high a prevalence diabetes is in South Texas, Blomstrom said.

On an letter grade scale, Blomstrom ranks the county a "D" because not only is there obesity in adults, it is also in children.

Plans are for the program to also teach children fitness and nutritional education at a young age, Blomstrom added.

If people of Texas continues slacking on exercise and eating unhealthy, 75 percent rather than 65 percent of Texans will be overweight and the costs for obesity-related diseases could skyrocket from 10.5 billion to 39 billion by 2040.

"The bottom line is we still have a problem," she said. "That's a huge cost that we can't afford. Not only can we not afford it, but it's preventable."

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