The Fort Bend County health and human services department has made decreasing the rate of adult obesity and its related conditions—such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers—a public health priority for residents.

The context

Statistics that contributed to obesity and heart disease becoming two of its five major public health issues come from its 2022 Community Health Assessment.
  • Out of the 800 survey participants who contributed to the study, 25% identified obesity as the top health issue among Fort Bend County residents.
  • 40% and 39% of those participants are concerned with poor eating habits and lack of exercise, respectively.
  • A third of Fort Bend County’s residents are obese.
The framework

The health and human services department set four measurable objectives to address these concerns by 2026, as outlined in its Community Health Improvement Plan:
  1. Decrease the rate of adult obesity in Fort Bend County to below its baseline of 30%.
  2. Reduce the proportion of adults who do no physical activity in their free time from 26% to 23.9%.
  3. Reduce the number of heart disease deaths in the county, which is currently 111.7 per 100,000 residents.
  4. Increase the proportion of adults who eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, which is currently 19.3% of the population.
Diving in deeper

The improvement plan lists potential partners and strategies to tackle the underlying causes of obesity and its related conditions. One of these is to increase awareness about healthy eating and physical activity in the community through nutrition classes and grocery store tours.

Stacy Bates has worked as a dietician for the last 17 years to teach her clients how food and lifestyle behaviors impact overall health. Her current role as H-E-B’s nutrition strategist is to connect its core business as a grocery store to its recently launched primary care clinics that take a food-as-medicine approach to holistic wellness, she said.

Bates said she sees patients from 2-99 years old with a wide-range of dietary issues—from picky eating habits, to food allergens, to diabetes and heart disease.

Though nutrition is not one-size-fits-all, Bates said developing a healthy relationship with eating and good intuition about food intake are strategies that could help most people wanting to make health changes.

“Our food and our dietary intake patterns, they affect our health in a much more permanent way than we realize across the entire lifespan,” Bates said. “If you think more about what [nutrition] your foods can give you versus ‘I can't have that food,’ it starts to shift the way you eat.”

What the experts say

Bates suggested getting 20-30 grams of protein three to four times a day if looking for a place to start improving one's diet. She said protein is an essential nutrient that, if consumed at breakfast, can stop overeating toward the end of the day.

“Protein is a big [factor] when we're working with patients to manage their hunger, honor their hunger cues, and make sure they're getting the fuel their body needs to build muscle,” Bates said. “The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.”