February 16, 2011
Linda Fondren is on a mission to get Mississippi residents off the couch.
The 55-year-old mother from Vicksburg, Miss. has already helped both young and old in an effort to get her community to lose weight. Now she is thinking even bigger: Turn Mississippi from the fattest to the fittest state in America.
"Mississippi holds the heavyweight title in the U.S.," said Fondren to MSNBC
, who is among theGrio's notable 100 History Makers in the Making. "It's time to get rid of that title. Time to get moving."
Fondren is motivated by the obesity related-death of her sister, 54-year-old Mary Washington in 2006. Other factors include that nearly two-thirds of the residents of Vicksburg, a city of 26,000 people are overweight or obese, and Mississippi has ranked the fattest state in the country the past six years in a row. More than a fifth of the state's children and young adults are obese.
To reshape her state, Fondren opened up an all-female gym, Shape Up Sisters, in 2006. The facilities offered free nutrition and work out classes to anyone in need and the demand was high. Fondren's workout studio now enrolls nearly 400 members.
To grow her healthy mission beyond her studio's community, Fondren created Shape Up Vicksburg, a 17-week weight loss challenge that later evolved into a community walking club. The town mayor, the police chief, school cafeteria workers, teachers and restaurant owners all joined her cause as supporters. They have also dedicated themselves to promoting a healthier population in their own capacity.
Since October's launch, Vicksburg residents have lost 15,000 pounds.
"Obesity is no longer a personal matter, it affects us all," Fondren said to the source. "What really needs to happen now is a national attention in our schools. We need physical activity. We have become sedentary because of technology. Physical education needs to go hand-in-hand with education."
Across the country, one in three youngsters are overweight or obese because of poor diets and a lack of exercise. Obesity is the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes experts continuously warn.
Fondren has gained national attention for her commitment to positively change the lives of fellow Mississippi residents. Honored as CNN's Local Hero of 2010, Mississippi officials are now watching her efforts, claiming she has found the key to success, reports MSNBC.
"One of the most important things is the community and its support," said Dr. Mary Currier, Mississippi's health officer. "And from (what) I have heard about (Fondren's) community efforts is wonderful. This is an issue we all need to work on."
"Most people do not know that they have a weight problem because we live in an environment where everyone almost looks the same," Fondren said.
Ebony Fisher, 22, never imagined she would weigh more than an NFL linebacker, topping the scales at 324 pounds.
Nearly two years ago when Fisher moved to Vicksburg from Detroit, Michigan, she began to pack on the pounds.
"The fridge was my best friend," Fisher said.
The dangerous reality of her obesity hit home when she went to visit the doctor last year.
"The nurse looked at me and asked 'How much do you think you weigh?' and I thought maybe 200 or so pounds," Fisher said. "I stepped on the scale and it read 324 pounds. I lost my heart right there on the scale. My breath was gone. I was knocked out. I left the doctor's office."
A few days later, Fischer decided to join Fondren's gym desperate to lose weight.
"I told my mom if I do not lose weight, I am going to die. I wanted to go to the gym. I wanted to go. But there was no way I could afford to go," she said to MSNBC.
Fondren refused to turn away someone in need, so she employed Fisher to provide childcare for members in exchange for gym fees.
Fischer started with small steps towards a healthy lifestyle. She started walking on the treadmill every day for a few minutes building up her endurance while focusing on her nutritional balance. She became a vegetarian and started to supplement her workouts with strength training and cardiovascular exercises.
"I don't know where I would be if there was no Linda," said Fisher, who has already lost 50 pounds, but isn't done yet. She plans to lose another 100 pounds and is confident she will reach that goal with Fondren's continued support. "Linda saved my life."