August 2007
4-H Extension Corner

4-H Extension Corner

  The 2007 Senior Level I State 4-H Achievement winners announced at State 4-H Congress in Huntsville are: (from left) Performing and Creative Arts: Cody O’Linger, Jackson County; Communications: Azeem Ahmed, Lee County; Food and Nutrition: Anna Leigh Peek, Limestone County;    Beef Production: Amelia Spradley, Pike County; Plant, Soil and Environmental Stewardship: Sawyer Spratlin, Randolph County; Natural Resources: Adam Bell, Shelby County; Leadership and Citizenship: Dalta Garrett, Shelby County.
Welcome back from a busy summer! We have just finished a huge State 4-H Congress in Huntsville at Alabama A&M’s campus. I first want to say ‘Thank You’ to all of those who worked so hard to make this an incredible event and what a wonderful job all the volunteers and parents who gave of their time and talents did! And none of this would have been attempted if we did not have a great set of Alabama 4-H youth.

Congratulations to all of the young men and women who participated. All of you are winners and have accomplished so much. I had the pleasure of facilitating one of the 18 events and contests. The Informative Public Speaking Contest had a great group of teenagers with a strong set of messages from their points of view. We heard about cell phone safety, anger management, freedom and many other topics.

I would like to say that we, as adults, must realize as we grew up, we NEVER had so many different factors that influenced our lives. Make sure that you always remember how important your reactions and words can be to a teenager who has so many things on his/her mind. Be kind, supportive and encouraging everyday to the youth who come into contact with you. Here is a speech given by a young lady (Lindsay McKeever of Jefferson County) that just blew me away!

The 2007 Senior Level II State 4-H Achievement winners are: (from left) Leadership and Citizenship: Mariah Logan, Choctaw County; Meat Science: Kara Clark, Houston County; Small Ruminant: Kara Whatley, Houston County; Electric Energy: Della Stabler, Lee County; Plant, Soil and Environmental Stewardship: Amanda Ellenburg, Marshall County; At Large: Bailee Dykes, Pike County.  
"She would wake up everyday with one thing on her mind. The girl was only 12 years old. Teenage insecurities were not supposed to be a priority yet, but for her it was her only priority. A priority had turned into an obsession; an obsession had turned into a disease, a disease known to the world as anorexia nervosa.

"In October, 2002, the girl was a size 9, which was normal for her height and age, but to her it felt anything but normal. In February, 2003, as she shopped for her Easter outfit, her mom quickly discovered her daughter was now a size 3. By Easter, just two months later, and the outfit was 3 sizes too big, altering her family and friends. In the next year, her weight would continue to plummet, until most of her body’s functions were shutting down completely.

"Her family tried their best to watch her, but she had the process down. Hide food as much as she could, throw away the rest while no one was looking. What she did eat, she quickly purged. Then in November 2003, her world full of lies, secrets and deception went tumbling down. Her parents had booked her a doctor’s appointment. Panic flooded her body, but so did relief. Maybe she could get help, maybe someone could fix her, maybe she could finally be set free from this disease.

  Representatives from the Alabama 4-H Volunteer Leader Association presented three scholarships to 4-H’ers at the 2007 State 4-H Congress. Scholarship recipients were: Andrew Brymer, Jefferson County; Deborah Garrett, Shelby County, center; and Bailee Dykes, Pike County. Pictured with the scholarship recipients were: volunteer regional representatives Joel Vickory (far left) and Deborah Stabler (far right).
"Fifty percent of girls between the ages of 11-13 see themselves as overweight, and 80 percent of those girls have attempted to lose weight. Anorexia is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. According to South Carolina Department of Mental Health, statistics show that an estimated 8 million Americans have an eating disorder. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. A study by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Association Disorders reported that 5-10 percent of anorexics will be dead after 20 years and only 20 percent ever fully recover. The mortality rate association with anorexia is 12 times higher than the death rate of all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.

"With treatment, 20 percent of people with eating disorders recover. They maintain healthy weight, eat a variety of normal foods and do not choose exclusively low-cal or non-fat items. They participate in friendships and romantic relationships and create families and careers. Many say they feel they are stronger people and more insightful about life in general and themselves in particular than they would have been without the disorder. In spite of treatment, 60 percent of people with eating disorders make only partial recoveries. They remain too much focused on food and weight and participate only superficially in friendships and romantic relationships. They may hold jobs but seldom have meaningful careers. Much of each paycheck goes to diet books, laxatives, exercise classes and binge food. The remaining 20 percent do not improve, even with treatment. They are seen repeatedly in emergency rooms, eating disorder programs and mental health clinics. Their quite desperate lives revolve around food and weight concerns, spiraling down into depression, loneliness and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

"Media messages screaming ‘thin is in’ may not directly cause eating disorders, but they help to create the context within which people learn to place a value on the size and shape of their body. Media messages like advertising and celebrity spotlights help our culture to define what is beautiful and what is good. The media’s power over our development of self-esteem and body image can be incredibly strong.

"According to a recent study of adolescent girls, the media is their main source of information. 74 percent cited ‘to become more attractive’ as a reason to lose weight. These researchers estimate that the average adolescent sees over 5000 ‘attractive messages’ per year. Encouraging the media to present more diverse and real images of people with positive messages about health and self-esteem may not eliminate eating disorders entirely. It would help reduce the pressures many people feel to make their bodies conform to one ideal. The process would reduce feelings of body dissatisfaction and ultimately decrease the potential for eating disorders. Media messages about body shape and size will affect the way we feel about ourselves only if we let them. When we effectively recognize and analyze the media messages that influence us, we remember that the media’s definitions of beauty and success do not have to define our self-image or potential.

"As a quote from Nelson Mandela says, ‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God! Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’

"The girl I told you about in my story did something only 20 percent of people with an eating disorder have done, she SURVIVED. She has been a survivor for 3 years. She has been able to resume her passion for life and is back training in karate. She can do this because she is now healthy and at a normal body weight. She will battle this disease the rest of her life. She will fight the urge to count calories, exercise excessively and purge, because she has been there, done that and realizes it could have ended her life. She is an anorexic survivor: I know this because I am that girl."

Lindsay, you are my hero and I will never see the youth around me in the same way. I hope I can always be insightful to more of the problems that could be going on in the lives of teens I come in contact with during my personal and professional life. Congratulations on getting help with and overcoming this problem. May God keep you encouraged as you fight the battle against this disease!

Until next time, God Bless!

James Shropshire is the Alabama 4-H Regional Extension Agent for the Central Alabama Region. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..