State Announces Partnership To Combat Obesity

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POINT PLEASANT—Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard joined the state’s leading health and fitness advocates on the beach in Point Pleasant last week to announce a public-private partnership to reduce obesity.

Obesity is a serious public health problem—both nationally and in New Jersey—that puts children and adolescents at greater risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities are at greatest risk for obesity.

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To support the effort, the department has received a five-year, $4.1 million grant from the CDC. As part of the CDC grant, the state and its partners will target six areas:

• Increase physical activity
• Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables
• Increase breastfeeding
• Decrease consumption of sugar sweetened beverages
• Reduce consumption of high calorie foods such as potato chips and candy
• Decrease daily hours of television viewing

Partners include members of the business, education, and health care communities, community organizations and experts in environmental planning. The Department’s Office of Nutrition and Fitness and its partners have developed workgroups and begun work in each of the priority areas.

The group is conducting an inventory of best practices and gaps in programs to combat obesity. The plan that is developed will guide partners and policy makers.

A new study released by the CDC last week showed that obesity rates among low-income preschoolers have stabilized over the last five years, both in New Jersey and nationwide. While the prevalence of obesity increased from 15 percent to 18 percent between 1998 and 2003, there was no increase between 2003 and 2008.

“This data is encouraging. It suggests that obesity prevention is working,” Howard said.  “Yet, we still have too many young children who are overweight or obese. A lot of work remains—particularly in minority and low-income communities, where access to affordable fresh produce and safe environments can be limited.”

To help the children and families at greatest risk, the partnership is placing special emphasis on programs that benefit African-Americans, Hispanics, other minorities and those who live in low-income communities.

African Americans have the highest rates of obesity nationally, according to another recent CDC study.  The obesity rate among African American adults in New Jersey is more than 30 percent compared to 23 percent among all New Jersey adults.

The health consequences of obesity can add as much as $147 billion annually to the nation’s healthcare costs, according to a study released earlier this week by the CDC and the Research Triangle Institute.

The total includes payments to Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers, including prescription drug spending.

The proportion of all medical costs due to obesity increased from 6.5 percent in 1998 to 9.1 percent in 2006, the study stated. Overall, persons who are obese spent 42 percent more – or an added $1,429 – for medical care in 2006 than individuals of normal weight.

Approximately 100 medical, fitness and nutrition groups are working with the Department’s Office of Nutrition and Fitness (ONF) to create policies and programs that increase opportunities for healthy diets and physical exercise.
The partnership includes the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the American Academy of Pediatrics/PCORE; the UMDNJ, the Medical Society of NJ, the NJ Food Council, the Mayors Wellness Campaign, the NJ Dietetic Association, the NJ Hospital Association, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, the NJ State Alliance of YMCAs, and the NJ Council on Sports and Physical Fitness; and government programs such as WIC.

The Office of Nutrition and Fitness has also installed a consumer phone line, (609) 292-2209, to respond to inquiries about nutrition and fitness services and resources in New Jersey.


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