ELIZABETHTOWN — The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released their State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthy America report and North Carolina was ranked 24th overall with a current adult obesity rate of 29.7 percent. The state is ranked No. 7 in the nation in obesity among children aged 2 to 4 years old with an obesity rate of 15.4 percent.
According to the report, North Carolina also ranks 21st in obesity among high-school students.
By comparison, according to the Eat Smart, Move More website, in 2011, Bladen County was in the highest percentile in North Carolina for adult obesity and, in 2012, Bladen County had an obesity rate of 15.9 percent for children aged to 2 to 4 years old.
“The thing that disturbed me about it (the report), was the letter that said this generation may be the first in the history of America to have the shortest lifespan,” said Bladen County Department of Health and Human Services Director Cris Harrelson.
The report is a sobering in light of the fact the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also publishes the national County Health Rankings report, said Harrelson. He added that two diseases that are obesity-related that were targeted in the recent Healthy Communities meeting were hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes.
Other obesity-related ailments can include heart disease, arthritis and the risk of obesity-related cancer.
“It can affect all of your organs,” said Bladen County Health Department Health Educator Marianne Valentiner of obesity.
Valentiner added that Type 2 diabetes is becoming more prevalent and Health Educator Carol Strickland said lifestyles can play a role in obesity.
“You can get active and lose weight and avert diabetes,” said Strickland.
Valentiner, Strickland and Harrelson agree this is where the strategies being undertaken by the Healthy Communities Initiative can make a difference. In a meeting earlier this month, the group met and looked at ways to help the county to become more active, identifying potential sources for grant funding and ways to better educate the community on the benefits of exercise and eating healthy.
Valentiner said there are programs offered such as Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less, Faithful Families which is a similar to Eat Smart, Move More but designed for churches. Valentiner said Eat Smart, Move More, Weigh Less, is offered twice per year and Faithful Families is a nine-week program which is faith-based.
“We are actually looking for church groups right now that would like to take part,” said Strickland.
She said Faithful Families teaches folks about nutrition, how to cook/prepare healthy alternatives to their family or congregation’s favorite dishes, and the importance of physical activity.
Valentiner said the Bladen County Health Department is compiling a list of roadside stands and farmer’s markets to help folks locate fresh produce available in their communities. But she added that there are not a lot of programs that are designed to target youth and teens.
Valentiner added that the Parks and Recreation Department has sports programs for youth and teens and the Bladen County Schools are using a grant to offer fresh fruit and vegetables in the schools.
Valentiner and Strickland both agreed that healthy start at home. Valentiner added that parents can influence their child’s choices when comes to healthy eating habits. They both suggest that parents can make subtle changes such as offering water to drink instead of sweetened tea or soda; offering healthy snacks in place of candy or chips; and packing nutritious lunches for school.
Other changes folks can make are changing how they prepare meals; serving smaller portion sizes; planning meals ahead; changing the size of the dinner plate to a smaller plate such as a luncheon plate; and seeking out healthy options to sugary, high fat snacks.
Valentiner said that folks can increase their level of activity by simply getting outdoors and walking in their neighborhoods, some churches offered walking trails or Jones Lake State Park offers walking trails. She added that church groups that want to have a walking trail created can call the health department at 910-862-6900, Ext. 5, and Strickland and Valentiner said they will help them to create a walking trail complete with information such as how many laps equal a mile. Valentiner added there is no cost for the service.
The next meeting of the Healthy Communities Initiative is Tuesday, Sept. 29, at 9 a.m. at the Bladen County Health Department.
—Erin Smith can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.