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Theresa Lou Bowick grew up in neighborhoods riddled with crime and poverty. Yet she never went to bed hungry.
Her mother and grandmother, her neighbors and her church fed a steady diet of fried chicken, fried catfish, gravy-smothered biscuits, macaroni and cheese and collard greens cooked with ham hocks, bacon grease and sugar.
It was a legacy of both pleasure and pain, which the lifelong Rochester resident has chronicled in her self-published memoir, Collard Green Curves: A Fat Girl's Journey from Childhood Obesity to Healthy Living.
The book describes not only her challenges and eventual success in breaking the cycle of obesity, but also how she has spread the gospel of good health to her northeast Rochester neighborhood. It's also a story that has landed Bowick on the cover of Weight Watchers Magazine and in Family Circle and Scrubs Magazine: The Nurse's Guide to Good Living.
"My family are the best cooks in the world," said the 44-year-old registered nurse for New York State Insurance Fund.
The latest national statistics, from 2009 and 2010, show that 17 percent of American youth ages 2 to 19 are obese. That is three times the rate from 1980. Even more sobering: 80 percent of obese children grow up to be obese adults. According to a University of Rochester Medical Center study, city youth are overweight or obese at twice the rate as suburban youth.
The health problems of obesity - heart disease, diabetes, hypertension - plus addiction are the story of her clan.
"Almost everyone who was raised in our blended family was now diagnosed with a chronic illness and (was) abusing food, drugs and alcohol, even the dog was insulin-dependent and my cat was overweight," writes Bowick, whose drug of choice was food.
"I am excited about the book. It opens up the conversation about childhood obesity" to include issues such as poverty, religion, education and family structure, she said. "It's not a cute story."
She's not kidding. Collard Green Curves chronicles the difficulty of growing up in a blended family, adolescent bullying and teasing, dropping out of college because of an unexpected pregnancy, two failed marriages, an abusive relationship, a devastating miscarriage and, finally, watching the cycle of childhood obesity repeat itself.