National Public Health Week focus is obesity

By Julie Fann
star staff

Public health officials across the United States have chosen obesity and tendencies toward being overweight as this year's topic for Public Health Week, which began yesterday and ends Sunday, April 13, to call attention to the prevalence of obesity in the nation which has reached epidemic proportions, according to the American Public Health Association.
   Today, approximately two-thirds of all American adults are overweight or obese. The proportion of children who are overweight has tripled since 1980.
   "The central issue is that so many Tennesseans are obese. Tennessee in particular ranks 12th in the nation in terms of adults who are obese or overweight," said Judy Womack, director of health promotions and disease control with the Tennessee Department of Health.
   Tennessee is one of four southern states that has the largest percentage of obese adults in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Other states include Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi.
   "I think the fast food craze is part of it, as well as sedentary lifestyles, so we're encouraging people to walk and to eat healthy foods," Womack said.
   The American Public Health Association chooses the topic for public health week every year. Last year's topic was Community Heroes. The state chose "Count on Me: Heart Health is a Numbers Game" this year as the media campaign coordinated in conjunction with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals and The American Heart Association.
   "We felt like the national topic of obesity for Public Health Week went well with our Heart Health campaign, since the two are inter-related," Womack said.
   According to the CDC, approximately 127 million adults in America are overweight; 60 million are obese, and 9 million are severely obese. Nationally, 300,000 people are dying every year as a result of weight-related risk factors.
   The Carter County Health Department, in observance of Public Health Week, has partnered with the Agricultural Extension Service in the Walk Across Tennessee program to increase awareness about the importance of exercise for prevention of obesity.
   On March 30, the department held a kick-off event at Sycamore Shoals State Park. Four teams, consisting mainly of health department employees, were formed to participate in the eight-week program.
   "The purpose is to educate and motivate people to walk on their own for health reasons; to exercise in some way, and walking is the best form of exercise," said public health educator Terry Henson. "The teams walk the number of miles that is the equivalent of walking across the entire state of Tennessee."
   Henson said Carter County Health Department employees are also observing Public Health Week by eating salads for lunch and receiving a lipid profile from Sycamore Shoals Hospital lab technicians.
   Marked by local events throughout the country, National Public Health Week will focus on five areas in which communities can work together to tackle obesity, including:
   - Increasing physical fitness opportunities for kids;
   - Promoting healthier living through better community design, including more walking paths, bike lanes and parks;
   - Offering better opportunities for fitness and healthy eating in the workplace;
   - Serving up more nutritious options in schools; and
   - Providing healthier dining options in local restaurants and markets.
   The American Public Health Association has also distributed planning guides and developed a Web page and tool kit to help public health professionals deliver a strong message on obesity and overweight conditions.
   On the Web: