September 24, 2006
By JAMES TASSE,
Director of the Rutland Area Physical Activity Coalition.
Imagine if a third of the population of the U.S. had a life-threatening infectious disease. The government would be looking for evidence of a terrorist plot. It would be perceived as a crisis of epidemic proportions.
Well, that's the situation with obesity right now. Thirty percent of Americans are obese — not overweight, but obese — right now. These individuals are facing substantially elevated risk of premature death due to chronic health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Vermont is doing better than the national average, with only about 20 percent of the adult population classified as obese. However, the Vermont Department of Health reports that 56 percent of Vermonters are overweight, a condition which also carries significantly elevated risks.
The epidemic is costly not only to the quality of life enjoyed by Vermonters but to our wallets as well. According to statistics from the VDH, obesity costs the state more than $141 million. Each person in the state of Vermont pays out about $228 to cover the costs of obesity, whether or not they are obese.
The VDH has developed a plan to fight the obesity epidemic by helping Vermonters make better lifestyle choices and by encouraging folks to increase physical activity and improve their diets. The Fit and Healthy Vermonters Obesity Prevention Plan is a multi-pronged attack on the problem that seeks to achieve the following goals:
- Reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases associated with those who are overweight and obesity
- Reduce the proportion of Vermonters who are above a healthy weight
- Increase fruit and vegetable consumption
- Reduce portion sizes
- Reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages
- Increase physical activity
- Decrease sedentary behaviors
- Increase breastfeeding initiation, exclusivity and duration
The plan encourages communities to adopt a variety of tactics to pursue these goals, including doing things like building sidewalks, walking trails and bike lanes, coordinating activity programs and working to educate the public on the need to change behaviors and diet choices.
The Department of Health is launching a series of forums around the state to inform people about the Obesity Prevention plan. The goal of the forums is to bring people up to date on current initiatives to fight obesity in their areas and to mobilize new community-based efforts to achieve these goals.
One such forum is happening on Oct. 10 from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Rutland Regional Medical Center Conference Room. To learn about other forums around the state, contact the Obesity Prevention Plan Coordinator, Susan Coburn, at 951-5151.
While we're putting dates on the calendar, you might also mark Oct. 4, which is International Walk to School Day. This is a great opportunity to encourage your kids to get to school under their own power and to help them develop the habits to keep them immune from the obesity epidemic.