Childhood obesity is the current focus for Forest Park’s resident epidemiologist, David Shohan, Ph.D. David, who works at Loyola, is a kind of health detective who analyzes epidemics to determine their cause and reduce risk factors.

What? Obesity is an epidemic. David said there has been an explosion in the body size of Americans since 1980. The obvious causes would be people stuffing their faces and not walking further than the refrigerator. But David says these factors alone don’t explain the ballooning bodies. There’s even a new phenomenon in the history of the human race – malnourished obese people.

Obesity among children is just as alarming. David thinks too much importance is placed on lack of exercise. Video gaming isn’t making them expand; it’s the junk they eat while they’re playing. Snack foods are crammed with calories. I mean, it takes an hour to walk off a Snickers bar.

Besides studying excessive weight gain in children, David and a colleague are conducting research in Maywood. They are comparing local African Americans with African Americans from other countries to see why they are prone to hypertension. David believes the stress level in our lifestyle may be a contributing factor.

Speaking of contributing factors, the character of a community can affect the incidence of obesity. Until recently Maywood was a “food desert” – a town without a grocery store. Now, thanks to the opening of the Maywood Market, residents have a healthy alternative to fast food and convenience stores.

As for Forest Park, David thinks we have all the ingredients to be a healthy community. For one thing, we’re not living in a food desert – we have several grocery stores to choose from. Our town is also very walkable. It’s compact enough to stroll from one end to the other.

We also have parks. Sure we could use more green space but urban density can actually be a healthier environment than suburban sprawl. It means we don’t have to jump in the car every time we need a gallon of milk. Another hale and hearty sign for the village is our access to the el. Healthy lifestyle people often choose to travel by public transit.

On the other side of the ledger, we have all these bars and restaurants. Not to fear, David says. At least we’re not covered with fast food outlets. And our homegrown restaurants serve healthier meals than the casual dining chains.

As for the taverns, alcohol consumption can cause weight gain but, no matter how many beers we’re drinking, it doesn’t explain the obesity explosion.

I’ve tipped a few glasses myself but David said my “abnormal” attitude toward food would keep me from becoming obese. Abnormal? All I told him was that I viewed food as a necessary fuel that I would take in pill form if possible.