Getting the skinny on obesity

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    By Chenoa McKnight

    Utah County health officials are taking a proactive approach to fighting the plague of obesity through public health awareness.

    The Utah Department of Health is focused on fighting obesity by prevention, rather than fighting the problem after it has materialized.

    According to the Utah Department of Health?s Web site, the national percentage of overweight or obese people is 59.1 percent in comparison to 56.4 percent for Utah.

    There is a lot of debate about how obesity affects public health. Obesity is the result of failing to focus on nutrition and cardiovascular health, said Lance Madigan, public information officer at the Utah County Health Department.

    ?We tend to focus on the issues that prevent obesity [rather] than on obesity itself,? Madigan said.

    The department has a number of working programs centered on increasing public health in Utah County.

    The Gold Medal School Initiative Program focuses on encouraging elementary schools to change policy and environmental support for physical education. There are three levels of the Gold Medal Program, bronze, silver and gold. In accordance with the Utah Department of Education, the Utah County Health Department encourages schools to develop a policy to institute at least 90 minutes of physical activity a week for elementary aged students and 45 minutes for kindergarten students. Patty Cross, a health educator at the Utah County Health Department, said 12 schools in Utah County are participating in the Gold Medal program, which has been growing for the last five years.

    In partnership with Smith?s and Macey?s, the department tours the county encouraging consumption of five fruits and vegetables a day as part of their Five-A-Day Nutrition Program. Last year 1,600 students participated in this program. Although the program will continue to hold it?s current title, it will accommodate the national nutrition trend and focus on a five to nine-a-day nutrition program.

    An environmental support program for adults encourages activity by instituting user-friendly enhancements such as tables, benches, and bike racks, on trails in city parks. The department?s goal is to insure that no barriers lie in the way of citizens being physically active, Cross said.

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