Bexar County and the rest of the country face an “epidemic” of diabetes and obesity, and if current health trends continue, future generations can expect shorter life spans and more chronic health issues, according to officials with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

Metro Health officials presented the newest chronic disease fact sheets Wednesday, using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

The number of adults living with diabetes in Bexar County has steadily increased since 2014. The number of overweight and healthy weight individuals also has increased, meaning some formerly obese individuals have improved their profile, yet the obesity rate has grown by 10% over the last three years. The disturbing increase in the percentage of obese adults in the county reverses some gains registered through an alternative methodology prior to 2014.

Changing the community’s health and lifestyle profile will require a lot of work, Jennifer Herriott, Metro Health’s assistant director for community health. She said the number of formerly obese people who are now overweight or at a healthy weight “indicates a shift, and a move in the right direction.”

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Dr. Vincent Nathan, Metro Health District, discusses the national diabetes epidemic at the release of the 2014 fact sheets. Photo by Lea Thompson

To view the Metro Health fact sheets in English or Spanish, click here.

“Between 1980 and 2014, the number of U.S. adults with diagnosed diabetes almost quadrupled from 5.5 million to 29 million throughout the U.S. ,” said Herriott. “It took us 30 years to get where we are, it’s going to take another 30 years to really see a huge impact. We’ve changed our culture so much over the past 30 years that we are consuming way more calories than we need, and sitting behind desks, and simply not getting enough exercise.”

Partnerships with organizations like the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, and initiatives like the Mayor’s Fitness Council and B-Cycle are contributing to San Antonio’s efforts to raise awareness about the state of public health in the city and county, and to provide people with more options to get active and consumer a more nutritious diet. City Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) encouraged citizens to take advantage of the City’s expanded trails system, free Fitness in the Park events, and to simply become more active in their neighborhoods.

Dr. Amelie Ramirez, director of Salud America! and the Institute for Health Promotion Research at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, hopes that local and state policymakers will establish “complete streets” policies for new transportation options near schools, green spaces and family-friendly destinations, and make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to travel.

“Latino kids don’t get enough exercise, so it’s critical to make parks, school playgrounds, and other recreational sites safer and more accessible to help Latino kids be active and fight obesity,” Ramirez said. “We need to structure neighborhoods where Latino (and all) families can easily, safely bike, walk, and much more.”

Rates of diabetes and obesity are much higher among African-American and Hispanic communities, according to Herriott. Quality of health remains closely linked to income, geography and education. Individuals living in poverty often are unable to access fresh foods, or do not know how to prepare foods in a healthy way. Officials hope that citywide partnerships will improve quality of life and health culture in all parts of the county.

It won’t be an easy for individuals and families to change their lifestyles, but it is possible through community partnerships, said Kathy Shields, Metro Health’s chronic disease and prevention director.

A family enjoys the open street at the YMCA's 9th Síclovía on Sep. 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of YMCA of Greater San Antonio.
A family enjoys the open street at the YMCA’s 9th Síclovía on Sept. 27, 2015. Photo courtesy of YMCA of Greater San Antonio.

“Sometimes the community is looking for one organization to solve the problem, but this is a community wide problem,” said San Antonio Food Bank President and CEO Eric Cooper.”It’s a complex problem that takes a complex solution if were going to move San Antonio to a healthier place.”

The Food Bank already has helped to implement several farmers market programs that allow individuals with Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to purchase healthy, fresh produce, and they are working to increase opportunities to use federal funding to purchase healthy foods.

The Food Bank also hopes to launch a new mobile market store by the end of April that will travel to food deserts throughout the city to provide affordable, fresh produce.

“There’s not one answer or one strategy, ” Cooper said. “At the end of the day, it’s about good nutrition and physical activity. I think if we can knock that out, it’s just going to take work and time.”

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*Top Image: Screenshot of the latest chronic disease facts sheets, available online at www.sanantonio.gov/HEALTH

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Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson, a former reporter at the Rivard Report, is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events.