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Health, Public Officials Meet in Topeka to Talk Obesity

ExercisingParticipants in the obesity summit taking an activity break. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)More than 60 percent of Kansas adults are either overweight... or obese. And our collective weight problem is driving up the cost of healthcare. Reducing the obesity rate is one of the top goals of some health advocates in the state. Last week, an obesity summit was held in Topeka. KPR's Stephen Koranda was there and files this report.



Around two hundred people at this obesity summit are stretching and moving as part of a mid-morning activity break. They’re imagining they’re heading on vacation and acting out what they’ll be doing.
This is an example of an activity people can use to get moving during long work days. But when they’re not exercising, people at the meeting are discussing ways to reduce the obesity rates in Kansas. At the event is Bill Dietz, a former official with the Centers for Disease Control. He says there's no single, clear-cut strategy to solve the obesity problem. Instead, he says it will take a multi-pronged approach. And the recommendations are not rocket science: eat less and be more active. But how do we get people to do that? That’s the question. Dietz says changing people’s attitudes, providing more educational information and making healthy options more available are good starting points.

“And we have to keep reminding ourselves that although we expect people to make healthy choices, we can’t expect them to make healthy choices if those healthy choices are not available.”

Dietz says small reductions calories can make a big difference in preventing obesity. Cutting back by as few as 30 calories a day in children can reduce obesity rates. Making fresh produce available in more places can help. So can replacing sugary drinks in schools with water - a change that’s basically free. Dietz recommends also changing the organization of cafeterias in schools and work places.

“Simply restructuring the lunch line to make the healthier options front and center in the lunch line and making the less healthy options less accessible.”


Physical activity is a “magic drug” in fighting obesity, according to Dietz. But he says one thing that doesn’t work is shaming people. Dietz says discrimination has been prevalent for years and hasn’t reduced rates of obesity. The event was organized by Governor Sam Brownback, who told the crowd about his own fight against weight gain and the strategies he employed -- specifically cutting back on the amount of food he eats.

“I bug my family about it, so when we go out and eat, I often won’t order a meal and just eat off of their plates. My kids don’t like that. So, I’m paying, so, that’s the way it’s going to be.”

But weight loss isn’t a joke to the governor. He had a simple message for people fighting weight gain – don’t give up.

“Most of American has struggled with weight at one time or another. This is not an unusual situation that you’re in or that anybody else is in. We all have. Just don’t give up.”

Obesity isn’t just a personal problem, it affects the fiscal health of the state. More than $1 billion is spent on obesity-related health care in Kansas - and that affects the state budget through programs like Medicaid. Secretary of Health and Environment Robert Moser says it also impacts business in the state.

“They need a healthy workforce. We know that people who are fitter have less absenteeism. They cost less as far as the health care dollars go for that employer.”

Moser says tackling obesity would be a big improvement in the overall health of Kansans, since obesity is connected with problems like diabetes, heart problems and even some types of cancer.



Health, Public Officials Meet in Topeka to Talk Obesity / September 13, 2012
Voices: (Robert Moser)

Secretary of Health and Environment Robert Moser says fighting obesity in Kansas can help health outcomes and save the state cash.  More than $1 billion per year is spent in Kansas on obesity-related health care. Moser says that affects the state through higher costs for programs like Medicaid.

For more on obesity in Kansas, and strategies for fighting it, tune in later this hour.


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