UM organization combats Mississippi’s rank as second highest in adult obesity


Carter Diggs
Oxford Stories

Obesity is a killer that carries many health risks including diabetes, heart problems and some forms of cancer.

Mississippi has the second highest adult obesity rate in the nation, according to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America released August 2017.

Marinna Jurss, a dietitian with the campus organization RebelWell, works to help individuals attain a healthful physical and mental lifestyle. RebelWell offers services, such as demonstrations, fitness assignments, and health risk assessments. Although it was designed for faculty, the organization is now open to students.


Marianna Jurss is RebelWell’s registered dietition. Photo by Carter Diggs

Jurss, who moved to Mississippi from California, initially thought Oxford was an unhealthy place to live. Since then, she has seen improvement.

She said there are many reasons why the state is near the top of obesity statistics. These include accessibility of cheaper unhealthy foods versus more expensive healthy foods.

“The U.S. food supply doesn’t make it easy for us to make healthy options,” Jurss said. “For some, the easy option is the unhealthy option, and the hard option is the healthy option.”

Jurss said poverty affects obesity, especially among children. When children of lower income families ask for luxury items, parents may buy them a soda or bag of chips since they can’t afford larger gifts. Associating junk food with rewards cause problems in the child’s health, especially if they consume junk food regularly.

Aside from price, Tiffany Liester, nurse practitioner at the Oxford Strong Heart Clinic, said self-control and the desirability and taste of certain foods can cause issues when shopping. Many cheap processed foods are packed with sugar and “empty calories” that provide no real nutrients.

“We ask ourselves: ‘Do I want the Krispy Kreme donut, or do I really want to eat those carrot sticks with peanut butter?’” Liester said. “Sometimes, it’s about self control, and sometimes it is hard to have self control and restraint. I think by the time you add self control, motivating factors, and then cost and availability, you really have to make an effort to eat healthy.”  

Another issue that plagues the state is the concept of the “food desert.” This is an area where residents do not have access to healthy food choices.

There might be a fast food restaurant or dollar store, but in a food desert, there are no options to purchase items, such as fruits and vegetables and fresh meat.  

This issue can strike both urban and rural areas. In rural areas, the nearest grocery store could be 20 or more minutes away. Impoverished areas of urban living spaces may not have stores within walking distance that offer healthy options.  

“You can tell someone, ‘Hey, you need to eat fruits and vegetables,'” Jurss said, “but if they don’t have access to it, they can’t do anything about it.”

Jurss has a few ideas about how to make things better. One is changing how the government prioritizes its subsidies. By increasing subsidies on healthier food options, such as fruits and vegetables, she said these items will get to the general public much easier. Prices would also be reduced, ensuring that more low income families could afford healthy items.


The Rebel Market seeks to provide students with healthy eating options.  Photo by Carter Diggs.

Exercise is also an important part of health. The general makeup of a town or city can intrinsically alter the activity level of its populace, changing how active individuals might be daily.  

Because of a state’s/town’s design, it can be hard to walk or bike. Owning a car might be necessary when one’s job is 20 minutes away.

“I think it has a lot to do with its (Mississippi’s) environment and walkability,” Jurss said. “If you’re on campus, you can walk around here, but once you get off campus, you’re probably not going to go, ‘I’ll walk to the Square.’ The streets are not made for pedestrians. There are not many sidewalks.”

For those looking to make healthier recipes, she recommends the show “Fit to Eat,” a program that takes previously unhealthy recipes and “fixes” them to be more healthy.

Venues such as the Rebel Market provide students with varied, healthy meal options. Places like the Turner Center let students train themselves physically and keep in shape. Organizations like RebelWell are also open to those who want to lead a more healthful lifestyle.

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