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New Mexico State University

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Researchers study prevalence of obese, overweight students, employees at NMSU

According to one national survey, more than 60 percent of people in New Mexico are either overweight or obese. Those numbers are similar across the country and have serious implications when it comes to illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and even some cancers. With that in mind, a group of researchers from New Mexico State University set out to study NMSU students and employees in hopes of better understanding the situation.

Susan Wilson, an associate professor in NMSU's Department of Health Science, is studying the prevalence of obese and overweight students and employees at NMSU. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

"We must begin to address some of the social determinants that affect what, when and where people eat if we are going to get a long-term handle on globesity, the worldwide epidemic of obesity," said Susan Wilson, an associate professor in NMSU's Department of Health Science and the study's lead researcher.

She said little is known about obesity and lifestyle factors of campus students and employees, especially in Southern New Mexico. That's why the researchers developed an online survey and submitted it to NMSU students, faculty and staff. The survey included 64 items, including measurements to identify the respondents' BMI, or body mass index, an international standard for identifying obesity. From the survey, researchers were also able to look at BMI in relation to age, sex, ethnicity and whether the respondent was a student or university employee.

Their survey found that 47.2 percent of NMSU and employee respondents self-reported as overweight or obese. That's a lower percentage than the rest of New Mexico, but still a significant number. They also found White participants had lower BMI compared to Hispanics and non-Hispanic Blacks, whereas Whites had significantly higher BMI than Asian/Pacific Islanders. The findings show older participants had significantly higher BMI compared to younger ones, and employees had a higher BMI than did student participants.

According to the study, more males are overweight and obese than females. This pattern differs from state, national and international trends where males typically have more overweight, but less obesity rates, than females. The rates of overweight and obesity also significantly increased with age in this sample. Body mass index was significantly different depending on whether the respondent was a student or employee, with employees being more overweight/obese than students.

"The thing I most hope that comes out of this research is that health professionals recognize that obesity, indeed globesity, is not just calories in/out, but multifactorial and should be addressed with more holistic actions that consider cultural values as well as stressors in the environment," Wilson said.

Wilson said she would like to see future studies that look more closely at stressors in the environment as well as culturally acceptable versus ideal notions of weight and obesity. She said the study findings suggest early intervention would help reduce levels of overweight/obesity and associated complications as the population ages. Finally, she feels the study provides evidence for health educators and policy makers to go beyond exercise and calories in/out to develop educational materials that can cross many barriers of culture, age, ethnicity, educational level, residence and body image.