- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2020

A Suitland, Maryland, nutrition coach is calling for more access to healthy foods and drinks in Prince George’s County, which has a higher percentage of residents living with obesity than the rest of the state.

James Tate, owner of the Beyond W8 Loss Wellness Center, weighed more than 400 pounds at one point but lost 200 pounds mostly changing his eating habits. His weight loss spurred him to open his own wellness center in 2012.

At 6-foot-2, Mr. Tate weighed about 280 pounds as a high school football player. His weight went up to about 330 pounds during college.

In 2007, he suffered injuries to his head, left shoulder, left leg and back from a car crash in Southeast Washington, leaving him immobile for a year.

The 41-year-old says he had to be brought food during that time, and his neighborhood did not have healthy options. His only exercise was his weekly physical therapy sessions, which continued for three years.

Following the accident, Mr. Tate tipped the scales at 415 pounds. Doctors warned him he would not be able to heal properly unless he lost weight.

“I know it was unhealthy eating habits. It was the lack of access to healthy foods. In order to get healthy foods, we really had to get in the car and drive far to get healthy foods,” he said. “We ate what we ate. We ate what we had. But we didn’t really look at it as unhealthy because we didn’t know.”

Obesity rates in Prince George’s County are much higher than statewide rates. The county had a 37% obesity rate among adults, according to 2016 data pulled from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, compared to Maryland’s rate of 28.3% recorded by the state Health Department.

Late last month, a Prince George’s County Council member introduced a bill aimed at increasing access to healthy food and drink options amid concerns of the impact COVID-19 on those with underlying health conditions, like obesity.

The bill would require county restaurants that serve kids’ meals to offer a healthy drink — either water, nonfat or one percent milk or nondairy milk alternative or 100 percent fruit juice with no added sweeteners — as the default beverage. It also would require restaurants to offer a healthy default side and at least one healthy children’s meal.

“So many families eat out on a regular basis. Even during COVID, families are still ordering carry out and curbside pick up The idea is that children will eat healthier when they’re out, which will also prompt eating healthier at home and they’ll be able to maintain a healthy weight and become healthy adults. So that is the idea,” said Shawn McIntosh, executive director of Sugar Free Kids Maryland and a supporter of the bill. “We do feel confident that with healthy options offered to children that parents will encourage them to eat healthier all the time.”

Sydney Daigle, director of the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council, said the county has a number of communities that are “inundated” with fast food and carryout and lack places to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables.

“Research shows that living in an area with a high density of unhealthy options like fast food restaurants compared to healthy options like grocery stores is actually a greater predictor of increased community obesity rates than just the presence of just a grocery store in a community,” Ms. Daigle said. “Often we’re focused on grocers just being the answer to everything, but actually targeting prepared foods is also very important, too, to really try to drag down obesity rates in communities.”

Mr. Tate said that having healthier options as a kid and a teenager would have made a huge difference for him, noting that he was one of very few overweight kids at school.

It was during a New Year’s Eve service at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in 2010, three years after the car accident, where he vowed to “rededicate his life.”

“From then on, I started to read every scripture about nutrition and started studying nutrition and applying it to my life. And through fasting, prayer and educating myself on nutrition, I was blessed to lose and keep off over 200 pounds,” said Mr. Tate, who teaches biblical nutrition classes the he has been hosting virtually since the coronavirus pandemic began.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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