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Monday, April 6th, 2009

State officials push for slender Ohioans

By Shelley Grieshop

Jane Diller watches as Coldwater youngsters attempt cartwheels during an after-s. . .

Ohio's population is growing but not in a good way.
In a recently released study, the state was dubbed the 17th heaviest in the country - not a claim-to-fame for health officials. To combat the issue, which appears to be even more critical for youth, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) last week released a detailed, 131-page Obesity Prevention Plan.
"This plan is a road map to use in our efforts to make Ohio the state of living well," ODH Director Dr. Alvin D. Jackson said. "It took us a long time to get to this unhealthy state, and it will take time and effort to reverse these troubling trends. Doing nothing is not an option."
The plan, which was created at the prompting of Gov. Ted Strickland, states that each year obesity costs billions of dollars in medical expenses and loss wages - a problem that directly affects the economy. Currently, Ohio spends an estimated $3.3 billion to address the consequences of limited physical activity and poor nutrition.
Janet Bassitt, health education director for the Auglaize County Health Department, said the problem right here in the Grand Lake area is staggering.
"All I can think about is the county's recent health assessment report," Bassitt said.
The report, which was released in 2008, found that 72 percent of adults and 14 percent of youths in the county were overweight or obese. Similar figures were discovered when Mercer County released its assessment report in 2006.
In recent years, grant dollars have been used by local health departments, schools and other community agencies to fund programs that steer people of all ages off the couch and into physical activities.
Bassitt, who is the Zone 2 coordinator for Ohio Action for Healthy Kids, said she oversees various fitness and nutrition-oriented grants for schools in Mercer and Auglaize counties.
"We've been pushing for school breakfasts. We've always known that kids who eat breakfast do better in school," she said.
She fears many children either skip breakfast or eat high-sugar items to start their day.
No Grand Lake area schools applied this year to receive the annual grant funding, she added.
Another grant being offered to schools is for a program called Sea Motion, an interactive aerobic exercise that uses an electronic board. Bassitt also is promoting "Veggie U," a program that originated in Milan, Ohio, which teaches fourth-graders about nutrition and how to grow fresh vegetables in their classroom.
Experts agree that children growing up today will live shorter lives than their parents if current trends continue.
The growing rate of Type 2 diabetes in children has health officials across the U.S. concerned. One-third of children in America are either obese or at risk of becoming obese, according to the Institute of Medicine's most recent report.
The goals of the state's Obesity Prevention Plan are to improve physical fitness options and nutrition, as well as access to healthy food choices. The state also wants to improve their own coordination efforts by combining resources of various agencies and organizations.
"Overweight and obesity are no longer cosmetic issues but imminent public health and financial threats," Jackson said. "A magic wand will not eliminate this public health problem. Prevention is the only viable option."
Additional online story on this date
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