San Antonio Express-News
"A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity"
Story summary: For most of his life, Hector Garcia Jr. battled severe obesity and all its consequences: the pain, the ridicule and the lost hopes. Bullied and ostracized as a child, he turned to food for comfort early. Hector lives in San Antonio, Texas, a city that has a place on “fattest city” lists every year. Recent figures from Gallup show the city has the second-highest obesity rate among major U.S. cities. 31 percent of San Antonians are obese and 65.7 percent of adults in the county are overweight or obese. Despite San Antonio’s efforts to curb obesity, an untold number of people with severe obesity live in isolation like Garcia, unable to find or access the medical and psychological help they need to combat its pervasive effects.
After years of repeatedly gaining and losing hundreds of pounds, Garcia, who at one point weighed 636 pounds, once again was stuck in the back bedroom of his parents' modest house. In 2010, Garcia renewed his effort to lose weight. With only diet and exercise, he lost over 300 pounds, in hopes of receiving double knee replacement surgery he thought would change his life dramatically for the better. Two surgeries turned into four and Garcia was unable to exercise. He grew depressed and once again turned to food as comfort. Over the next year, Garcia regained the weight he had fought so hard to lose, continuing the cycle of obesity.
Caption: At almost 600 pounds, Hector Garcia Jr. finds simple daily tasks like bathing a challenge. He struggled to walk across the hall from his bedroom to the bathroom so that his mother, Elena, could wash him after cutting his hair in November 2010. A month before, Hector started dieting after he realized he was close to his highest known weight, 636 pounds.
This Premier category will recognize a photographer's extended story or essay that demonstrates an understanding of and appreciation for everyday life within a community. A "community" may be defined as a neighborhood, a town, a small commune, a rural agricultural area, a city subdivision, or socioeconomic region. The purpose is to encourage attention to the small events in life that are often overshadowed by the news of the day, and to celebrate those images that reflect the work and dreams of humankind.
During the conversations by the judges about the Community Awareness Award category, there was a respectful disagreement. For three out of the four judges, the winning story fulfills the category description that entries must “encourage attention to the small events of life that are often overshadowed by the news of the day.”
Of the four judges, John Kaplan believes that the entry, while strongly photographed, does not fit within the parameters of the full category guidelines.
The other three judges note the following: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued a report last year stating that one in five U.S. deaths is associated with obesity, yet the full story is rarely told. Hector’s story is a rare look at an issue that impacts countless families who watch their loved ones struggle, and often lose, their battle with obesity. This problem is especially acute in the Hispanic community. Additionally, this body of work clearly and poignantly shows the public reaction to those who are morbidly obese.