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Hartselle Enquirer

Chewing the fat on obesity rankings

By By Bob Martin, The Alabama Scene
The fat rankings are out and Alabama is just behind Mississippi as the fattest state in the union. The Associated Press uses the more refined word, “obese,” in reporting that more than 30 percent of adults in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee fit the description of being obese
The AP should realize that the use of “obese” is just a cover-up. A great many folks in these three states won’t realize that they fit that description because it’s too uppity of a word. They would understand a headline that says we’re the fattest folks in America, perhaps the world, so stop eating and start exercising.
But the good news is that Mississippi is still number one. The bad news is that we are close behind and there is no place better to demonstrate our claim to this distinction than to walk the white sandy beaches of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
I was there this past weekend attending the 137th annual summer convention of the Alabama Press Association. I certainly can’t brag about my weight, but at my last doctor’s appointment I was at my lowest number in several years. If you want to understand why we are right up there with Mississippi in this cardiovascular-unfriendly category, just spend an hour walking the Red Neck Riviera and you will see enough oversized buttocks breasts, bellies, and sagging cellulose to make a plastic surgeon salivate.
The Center for Disease Control, which conducted the study, suggests that high poverty rates tend to be a factor and that in today’s America it’s the poor who tend to be obese. The people I saw weren’t poor or they were spending their life’s savings at those $200-a-night condos.
It may get more costly to carry around all that fat if you’re a state employee. The State Employees Insurance Board (SEIB) has a plan under consideration to charge obese state employees $24 a month more in health insurance premiums. Anybody with a body mass index of 35 or greater would pay a surcharge that’ would take effect in 2011 if approved. The board will gather in August to discuss the issue.
The obesity premium would be waived for those who are exempt for medical reasons or are losing weight. According to an SEIB newsletter, the medical cost of extremely overweight employees to the state is $50 million a year.
Merck to start paying Vioxx settlement
Big drug maker Merck will start writing checks soon for former users of its painkiller Vioxx, which has been taken off the market. The $4.8 billion settlement will compensate nearly 50,000 who claimed injuries from the drug and have agreed to participate in the settlement according to Montgomery lawyer Jere Beasley.
Beasley’s firm was the lead negotiator in the settlement and the former Alabama Lt. Gov. said the overwhelming number of plaintiffs who agreed to the settlement terms demonstrates that it was a good settlement. Vioxx, launched in 1999, earned revenue for Merck of about $4 billion, but the settlement plus legal fees has cost the company well over $6 billion. Settlement amounts can run from $5,000 up to several million dollars based on a complicated formula that includes the seriousness of the injury to individuals. “Today is a very big day for Vioxx victims,” said Andy Birchfield of Beasley’s firm, who served on the plaintiffs steering and negotiating committees. “
The high cost of public lawyers
A few weeks ago it was revealed that the highest paid public servant in Alabama was David Bronner, the head of the state’s retirement systems, at well over a half million dollars. Now it is revealed that we pay state legal minds in addition to state judges and the attorney general, whose pay is set by state law, pretty good. The annual salaries of some of the highest paid attorneys in state service are:
University of Alabama Systems General Counsel Ralph H. Smith, $368,963; Retirement Systems general counsel Bill Stephens, $294,406; Auburn University general counsel Lee Armstrong, $205,300; Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, $196,182; Associate Supreme Court Justice Patti Smith, $194,932; Associate Supreme Court Justices Tom Parker and Mike Bolin, $155,946; Attorney General Troy King, $163,744; chief lawyers for several state agencies, $136;939.
In 1999 state lawmakers increased the pay of state appellate judges and the attorney general to among the highest in the Nation. The appellate judges are paid in part by the number of years of service. The attorney general’s pay is tied to the pay of associate justices of the State Supreme Court..
Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com.

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