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Hutchinson announces 10-year plan to curb state obesity

by Joseph Price | October 27, 2015 at 12:16 p.m.
Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe addresses a press conference about the Healthy Active Arkansas plan Oct. 14 at the State Capitol in Little Rock.

In hopes of combating the state’s obesity epidemic, along with other health issues, Gov. Asa Hutchinson has announced a plan that aims to not only reduce obesity but also encourage healthier practices by Arkansans.

Healthy Active Arkansas, unveiled Oct. 14, is a system of research-based strategies that outlines community efforts to reduce obesity. It has recommendations for efforts to be orchestrated on the state level. The plan is meant to be used by businesses, education centers, religious organizations, restaurants, city planners and others.

“This is not a one-time thing. We’re not going to have a news conference on this and forget it,” Hutchinson says. “This is not a public service announcement. This is an objective that I have for my time as governor.”

The plan’s goal of targeting obesity is largely due to obesity being linked to so many other health problems.

“We’ve been trending in the wrong direction,” says Jeff LeMaster, director of communication and marketing for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “We believe if we see obesity numbers come down, we’ll see improvement in other areas.”

Healthy Active Arkansas was developed through a series of discussions at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, which began in 2012, LeMaster says. He says that in 2013, the institute hosted a conference where health care, nonprofit and government leaders put together a 10-year plan to decrease obesity in the state.

Playing a large role, of course, will be the Arkansas Department of Health.

“This is not new for us,” says Stephanie Williams, the department’s deputy director of Public Health Programs. “I think it gives us a good set of strategies that are based on evidence.”

In Arkansas, approximately 760,000 adults are considered obese and on average have annual medical costs that are $1,429 higher than those of a healthy weight.

“It makes Arkansas better primed for development,” LeMaster says. “A healthy workforce attracts employers.”

The plan’s nine priorities are as follows:

1) Encourage the creation of more livable places that improve mobility, availability and access within a community.

2) Ensure uniform access to healthy foods and beverages to consumers in government, institutional and private-sector settings.

3) Ensure that state and local governments, early child care providers, school districts and colleges will provide food and beverages that align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and promote health and learning.

4) Ensure state and local governments, early child care providers, school districts and colleges provide opportunities for daily physical activity and quality physical education that promotes healthy lifestyles.

5) Encourage work sites to establish healthy environments that promote good health through prevention, reduce health care costs associated with chronic illness and disability, and improve employee productivity.

6) Ensure that state and local governments and other stakeholders promote education, public policies and access to affordable healthy foods for all Arkansans.

7) Reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in work sites, public places, recreational facilities and schools.

8) Ensure women, health service providers, employers, communities and other key stakeholders will adopt, implement and monitor policies that support and increase the proportion of mothers who initiate and continue optimal breastfeeding practices.

9) Develop and implement a robust, sustained and culturally appropriate targeted communications and marketing program aimed at changing norms and behaviors with respect to physical activity and nutrition.

Each priority area sets two-, five-, and 10-year goals in obtaining a healthier Arkansas.

“Ultimately, we’ll increase the number of Arkansans at a healthy weight,” Williams says. “The good thing about the plan is that it has something we can all be a part of.”

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