State Health Officials Encourage a Move to Better Health

Massachusetts wants us to move. No, it’s not about living elsewhere. It’s about physical movement, as in exercising our bodies (and exercising better judgment about what we put into our bodies), pushing ourselves away from the table, and getting up off the couch more often than we do now.

The state Department of Public Health (DPH) has launched Mass in Motion, a campaign targeting overweight and obesity, health problems affecting millions of people in our state and across the nation. The campaign’s goals are twofold, simply stated, and ambitious: to decrease the number of overweight and obese adults and children, and to reduce the amount of chronic disease associated with unhealthy eating and lack of exercise.

It’s hard to overstate the issue or the need to act. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 66{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of American adults over 20 years of age are overweight or obese. Of those, 32{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} are considered obese. In addition, 17{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of adolescents 12-19 years of age and 19{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of children age 6-11 are considered overweight. (The distinction between overweight and obese is determined by Body Mass Index, a physical measurement related to body fat. Check yours at www.cdc.gov/bmi.)

The Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in their fifth annual report, “F as in Fat 2008,” said that obesity rates increased in 37 states within the last year, and that no state — not one — saw a decrease. Obesity rates now exceed 25{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the population in more than half of all states.

Even here in Massachusetts, a relatively healthy state compared to others, overweight and obesity are major problems, and no one seems immune. Consider these facts from DPH:

More than half of adults and almost one-third of high-school and middle-school students are overweight or obese.
In a survey taken between 2003 and 2007, black adults were 60{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} more likely, and Hispanic adults 50{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} more likely, to be obese than their white counterparts.
Adult obesity in Massachusetts accounts for $1.8 billion in medical expenses, according to the CDC.

The medical evidence is clear and convincing about the consequences of overweight and obesity. Heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, stroke, arthritis, depression, and sleep and respiratory problems are just some of the illnesses associated with the conditions. Childhood obesity, even in infancy, can have ramifications well into adulthood. And besides the personal suffering and illness, a bigger financial burden is put on our health care system, as more money is spent to treat more chronic disease afflicting more patients.

This epidemic of overweight and obesity is not a new crisis. Nine years ago, then-U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issued a call to action, saying that overweight and obesity “may soon cause as much preventable disease and death as cigarette smoking.” Unfortunately, too few were paying attention then.

To be sure, many steps have been taken to fight obesity. Schools, businesses, health care providers, elected officials, public health agencies, and food manufacturers have all established new programs, regulations, and products to help people trim the fat and get more fit.

But judging by the numbers, we’ve barely moved the needle, if at all. Mass in Motion, with its emphasis on a healthy diet and exercise and individual responsibility, provides us with another opportunity to answer a call to improve our wellness.

The state has drawn on the expertise of physicians, nurses, and public health advocates in developing the program, and it’s the first initiative backed by all of the state’s major health-funding foundations. The campaign will reach into communities, schools, and companies across the Commonwealth.

The drumbeat for healthier diets and more exercise can never be too loud. Obesity and overweight are both personal and public health issues, and their medical and health consequences are too serious, and becoming too common, to ignore. Visit www.mass.gov/massinmotion. It’s one way we can all make a move to better health.

Bruce Auerbach, M.D. is president of the Mass. Medical Society and vice president of Emergency and Ambulatory Services at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, Mass.