Nutrition And Fitness Awareness Day Highlights State Efforts To Combat Obesity

HACKENSACK—Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard joined Nelson Louis, CEO of the Greater Bergen County YMCA and nutrition and fitness advocates on Aug. 26 to highlight the importance of regular exercise and healthy eating in reducing obesity among New Jersey residents. Howard spoke with children about how important exercise is to a healthy lifestyle and also participated in a healthy snack demonstration.

“New Jersey is committed to reducing obesity and making our communities healthier,’’ said Governor Jon Corzine, who created the state’s Office of Nutrition and Fitness. “Our partners, which include the YMCA, will help us build upon our previous efforts to promote nutrition and fitness, like making school lunches healthier and investing in safe walking and biking routes and other recreational facilities,” Corzine said.


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.

“We know that fewer than 30 percent of New Jersey children between the ages of 6 and 17 participate in vigorous physical activity every day,” said Howard. “Today, we join the YMCA to emphasize the importance of physical activity and good nutrition and to highlight the wealth of recreational resources that New Jersey has to offer to keep our children active.”

To support obesity reduction efforts in New Jersey, 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.

“The YMCA of Greater Bergen County is very happy to partner with the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services to emphasize the importance of exercise and good nutrition for our children.   Battling childhood obesity is one of the YMCA’s main focuses as we work to build strong kids, strong families and strong communities.   It is a goal which will be easier to attain when agencies work together.” said Nelson Louis, YMCA CEO.

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 a 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 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, people 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 NJ State Alliance of YMCAs, 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, 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, 1-609-292-2209, to respond to inquiries about nutrition and fitness services and resources in New Jersey. For more information visit the Office of Nutrition and Fitness web site at

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