It may come as little surprise that obesity is a serious problem in the Rio Grande Valley. The adult obesity rate in Hidalgo County, which stands at 43 percent, is more than 10 percent above the state average, according to the CDC.
“For several years, the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area has ranked No. 1 on the list of the most obese cities in America, according to WalletHub.com. Being obese is bad for your health, and it’s especially dangerous during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr. Ernesto Garza, MD, FACS, a bariatric surgeon at the South Texas Health System Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery Center. “Obesity increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other health issues which increase your risk of serious coronavirus symptoms and greatly increase your risk of hospitalization.”
There are several factors that contribute to the widespread issue of obesity, including genetics, a poor diet, mental health challenges and a sedentary lifestyle. But becoming obese is preventable, even reversible. While making lifestyle changes, like getting plenty of exercise and eating well, is not always easy, they can lead to a longer life expectancy and a reduced risk for diseases.
To help motivate the community to live better, the South Texas Health System Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery Center launched its new healthy living initiative by hosting a health and wellness seminar on Saturday, July 17, at the South Texas Health System McAllen Heart Clinics. Entitled “Transform Your Life,” the event featured the participation of Los Angeles-based personal trainer and cookbook author Sarah Koudouzian, who has trained the likes of Latin Grammy-winning singer Prince Royce, former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres, and singer and television personality Chiquis Rivera.
“We can’t control our genetic traits, but we can make good lifestyle choices to prevent diseases that may run in your family,” says Tom Castañeda, System Director of Marketing and Public Relations, South Texas Health System. “Eating well and getting plenty of exercise are key to leading a healthy lifestyle. By launching our ‘Transform Your Life’ campaign, we’re hoping to inspire people to step up their game when it comes to their health. And what better way to kick off this program than with the help of someone who has helped some of the Latino idols in our community get into shape.”
During the event, Koudouzian led an in-person audience, as well as an online audience participating via Zoom, through a high impact workout that can be done anywhere, followed by a live cooking demonstration featuring four of her favorite healthy dishes including a breakfast egg muffin, a Tex-Mex quinoa bowl and a cacao flaxseed peanut butter cup dessert.
“I don’t want somebody to feel like they need to be in the gym for so many hours, they don’t have the time. It’s a no-excuses type of deal. Everybody has at least 20 to 30 minutes to be able to do something,” Koudouzian said. “To be able to just spread the message — especially coming to a city considered the least healthy — to be able to use my platform and work to be able to help others, I think that’s what it’s really about.”
During her workout routine, Koudouzian was joined by former bariatric patient Rachel Rodriguez, who has sustained her nearly 90-pound weight loss since having gastric sleeve surgery in 2013.
“I was honored to take part in the ‘Transform Your Life’ program because I’m proud of my weight loss journey and am proud that I have been able to keep the weight off with diet and exercise. I hope I can inspire others struggling with weight issues to begin their own journey,” says Rodriguez, who said she didn't have energy or motivation prior to her procedure. “Now I am confident; I love myself more and I have the energy to run around with my children and grandchildren.”
While diet and exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, some individuals considered obese, especially those experiencing health problems who are ready to make a change, surgery can help get them on track.
“For some, surgery may be less damaging to their body than carrying excess weight for a long period of time,” says Dr. Luis Reyes, MD, bariatric surgeon, South Texas Health System Bariatric Weight Loss Surgery Center. “Once we pass a certain height to weight ratio, it becomes a little bit harder to make the lifestyle adjustments necessary to lose weight. Surgery makes these important changes a lot easier to maintain — not just for one or two years after for the procedure, but for their lifetime.”
Dr. Garza and Dr. Reyes remind prospective, current and previous patients that surgery alone won’t solve their weight loss problems. They will have to commit to transforming their lives through diet and exercise, and these events are aimed at helping everyone kick start their weight loss journey.
Individual results may vary. There are risks associated with any surgical procedure. Talk with your doctor about these risks to find out if bariatric surgery is right for you.