FRANKFORT, KY (Sept. 2, 2004) -- Controlling a deadly epidemic sweeping Kentucky will require the active involvement of those affected and at-risk, local and state governments, schools, parents, health care providers and others, according to those attending a series of meetings on obesity.
Nine regional forums were held throughout the month of August as part of Governor Ernie Fletcher’s Get Healthy Kentucky! initiative to both gauge community support to fight obesity on the local level and solicit input on how best to address barriers to good health. The last forum was held Monday in Boone County. Other forums were held in Lexington, Hazard, Owensboro, Bowling Green, Louisville, Somerset, Ashland and Paducah.
Approximately 1,200 people attended the nine forums.
“The turnout was excellent and shows how much interest there is in the need to improve the health of all Kentuckians,” said First Lady Glenna Fletcher, who is serving as a special advisor for the initiative. “Many Kentuckians see the need for this effort.”
The forums followed the release of the Kentucky Obesity Epidemic 2004, a report funded by a grant from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and issued by the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The report categorizes obesity as an epidemic and revealed that medical costs for treatment of obesity-related health conditions were more than $1.1 billion last year.
About 64 percent of adults and one in three children in Kentucky are currently affected by or at-risk for obesity and overweight, making this epidemic a serious public health issue. Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in Kentucky and is closing in quickly on the number-one killer, smoking.
“The obesity forums were incredibly valuable in terms of helping us figure out the best ways to tackle this problem based on the opinions and ideas of people with a genuine stake in the public health issues affecting their own communities,” said Dr. James W. Holsinger, Jr., Secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
The workshop-style forums consisted of small-group sessions in which participants listed all the things that currently are being done in their communities and what they’d like to see done to encourage breastfeeding, consumption of fruits and vegetables, physical activity, parental involvement and other dietary changes and to decrease television and computer time.
Among the recommendations cited most frequently by forum participants were: making daily physical education and physical activity mandatory for all K-12 students; offering healthy food choices in school vending machines; and providing more affordable, accessible, family-friendly opportunities for physical activity in local communities.
Holsinger said information gleaned from the regional forums will be used to craft an action plan to guide the state’s campaign to reduce the rate of obesity and overweight and encourage Kentuckians to adopt healthy eating and exercise habits.
Forum participants raised a variety of issues, many of which echoed similar themes, while others reflected the state’s environmental, cultural, social, economic and community diversity. For instance, where unsafe neighborhoods are a barrier to physical activity in one region, the lack of sidewalks and bike trails is a barrier in another.
“The cure for this public health problem has to be tailored to fit the universal symptoms as well as the distinct needs and realities of various populations and geographic regions,” Holsinger said.
Data collected at the forums is now being analyzed and will form the basis for an action plan to guide a statewide campaign to get people eating better, exercising more and living longer, healthier lives. The action plan is scheduled for release in early 2005.
Obesity is the first focus issue to be addressed as part of Governor Fletcher’s Get Healthy Kentucky! initiative. Holsinger serves as chairman. Others health issues to be addressed over the coming months and years include use and abuse of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, immunizations, dental care, regular, ongoing primary care and healthy babies.