Midstate leaders seek cooperation to stem region’s obesity problem

Efforts in the region’s battle against the bulge are taking shape in a push to get community and government leaders on the same page with health officials.

Wednesday’s Central Georgia Regional Health Summit at Macon State College encouraged cooperation among a range of local entities to find ways to counter an obesity epidemic — and the medical woes that stem from it — that costs Georgians an estimated $2.1 billion a year. Community leaders from seven Middle Georgia counties — Bibb, Houston, Crawford, Jones, Monroe, Peach and Twiggs — were on hand.

Twenty-nine percent of adults in the state are considered obese (1.9 million people), fewer than half are “regularly active,” and only 1 in 5 eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, according to 2008 figures from the Georgia Department of Human Resources.

The department’s most recent report on obesity notes that people are more likely to exercise “if they have a safe and convenient place to walk,” and that more “organizational policies are needed in communities, work sites, and health-care settings” to promote healthier living.

A speaker at Wednesday’s meeting, Dr. Chris Parker of the Georgia Health Policy Center at Georgia State University, said, “Once you have the leadership and the community collaboration, it’s amazing what these regionalized kinds of action can do. If folks are committed to the long haul, you see change with time.”

To get people off the couch, Parker said, “a paradigm shift has to happen.” Part of that, he said, can come about by influencing young people to pick up healthy habits.

Parker said that society in general has gotten lax when it comes to physical activity.

“It’s a comfort issue. Over time, man has really tried to become more comfortable. We prefer laptops and we don’t move as much. Our cars, we went from windows you rolled up and rolled down to buttons,” he said. “We’ve literally, with all these advances for comfort, kind of become more sedentary, and it’s having an impact on our health.”

Gregory Dent, president and CEO of Community Health Works, the Macon-based nonprofit that hosted Wednesday’s gathering, said, “There are policies that we can put in place that will incentivize people to do that. ... In some communities we don’t have sidewalks, so if you want to walk, you can’t walk.”

Summit attendee Cyndey Busbee, assistant vice president of corporate communications at The Medical Center of Central Georgia, said that while several of the providers represented Wednesday encourage many wellness programs individually, “this is the first time we are going to try to collaborate.”

“It’s trying to make health easy,” Busbee said, “And I think as a community we need to come together. ... We need to plan together.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.