Bayou La Batre calls itself the seafood capital of Alabama. Residents here depend on fishing and shrimping for their livelihood, and when they sit down to eat, they like most things fried.
It’s here that former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin has been trying to reverse the nation’s obesity epidemic one patient at a time. Benjamin grew up near Bayou La Batre and has run a health clinic in this town of seafood workers and ship builders since 1990. As obesity became commonplace around the U.S., health care providers like Benjamin began seeing the impacts of obesity all around them.
“We saw our patient population get heavier,” Benjamin said. “We saw chronic diseases start to rise, and if we continued, our entire community would totally be crippled, basically, based on chronic diseases.”
Two major trends are on a collision course here, as in the rest of the United States: a decades-long surge in obesity and the aging of the U.S. population. Today, one out of every three adults in the U.S. are clinically obese, and many who have lived for decades with excess weight, diabetes and heart disease are now heading into their senior years. Obese people are far more likely to become sick or disabled as they age, and researchers say this burgeoning demographic will strain hospitals and nursing homes.
“We’re potentially going to have a larger, older population that’s more likely to be obese,...
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