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Tackling the obesity epidemic: Southern Obesity Summit, 2014


The 8th Annual Southern Obesity Summit (SOS) was held, for the first time, in Kentucky on October 5-7, 2014, in Louisville. Presented annually by the Texas Health Institute, and partnering this year with Shaping Kentucky’s Future Collaborative (SKFC), the Southern Obesity Summit is the largest regional obesity prevention event in the United States, drawing hundreds of participants from 16 Southern States including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

SKFC, a coalition of Kentucky grant-makers, is dedicated to reducing the risks of obesity in Kentucky. SKFC’s goals are to educate and advance policy in the areas of nutrition, physical activity, and the built environment. The coalition took its name from a brief issued by state policymakers in 2009 to provide a blueprint for effective policies to lower Kentucky’s rate of obesity, a major factor in so many chronic diseases.

During the three-day summit, over 300 participants convened to share emerging and effective obesity prevention policy and practices from across the region. Attendees included policymakers, leaders from community based organizations, federal and state government officials, health care providers, and members from national and state associations. 

Obesity is one of Kentucky’s most dire and burdensome public health epidemics. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, Kentucky had the highest percentage of obese high schools students in the nation in 2013 at 18 percent. In addition, the Bluegrass State now has the fifth highest adult obesity rate in the nation according a report recently released by the Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Speaker highlights:

Dr. Stephanie Mayfield (KY Public Health Commissioner http://chfs.ky.gov/dph/) contrasted Kentucky obesity statistics with national rates. 31.3 percent of the state’s adults are obese vs. the 27.6 percent national average. As noted above, 18 percent of our youth are obese vs. 13.7 percent, the U.S. average.

Larry Cohen (Prevention Institute http://www.preventioninstitute.org/) said only 3 percent of our healthcare dollars are spent on prevention, which makes little sense when life expectancy is based 20 percent on genetics, 10 percent on healthcare and 70 percent on behavior/lifestyle.

General D. Allen Youngman (Mission: Readiness, a nonpartisan national security organization of over 500 retired admirals, generals, and other retired senior military leaders calling for smart investments in America’s children. http://www.missionreadiness.org/) said “Childhood obesity is a national security issue. Seventy three percent of 17- to 24-year olds in the U.S. cannot serve in the military, primarily because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a serious criminal record. Obesity is, by far, the most common issue we see.” Additionally, he said injuries are much more common than in the past. “Eighteen years of drinking more soda than milk leads to more stress fractures, as well.”

Dr. Craig Blakely (Dean of the School of Public Health and Information Sciences, University of Louisville http://louisville.edu/sphis/) noted that Kentucky leads the nation in consumption of the soft drink, Mountain Dew.

Additionally, one panel discussion acknowledged: “Sitting is the new smoking.” The effects of sitting go far beyond fewer calories burned — which explains why research has shown increased exercise for an hour or so per day can’t undo the negative effects of sitting for eight hours, any more than running a mile can erase the damage caused by a smoking habit. The bottom line is that each hour you spend sitting reduces your life expectancy by about 21.8 minutes, regardless of your exercise and diet

Our bodies become more resistant to insulin when consistently sedentary. Adults who spend the most time sitting have a 112 percent increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes.

The numbers vary from person to person, but it’s estimated that a person burns an extra 50 calories per hour when standing, compared to sitting. This might not sound like a lot, but it adds up if someone sits for eight hours a day, five days a week.

Standing just half that time means a person will burn an extra 1000 calories each week without changing diet or exercise. Do it for a year, and that’s about 50,000 extra calories — the rough equivalent of running 15 marathons.

Research has shown that people who simply take short walking breaks of a few minutes during sedentary periods have lower rates of obesity and other risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Get up and move at least once hourly!

SOS strategies to combat obesity across the southern states:

Seven pillars of obesity prevention policies embraced across the southern states focus on:

  • Early childhood

  • Food systems/access

  • Healthcare and healthcare systems

  • Nutrition policy

  • Physical activity

  • Worksite wellness

  • Schools

Specific action steps and national partners are identified on the SOS website-http://www.texashealthinstitute.org/uploads/1/3/5/3/13535548/seven_strategies_sops_2014-15.pdf

The 2015 Southern Obesity Summit is slated to be held in early November in Jackson, MS.

Resources: (other than those listed above)

Partnership for a Fit KY http://www.fitky.org/resource-library/

Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition http://tweenslex.org/

Texas Health Institute, Southern Obesity Summit http://www.texashealthinstitute.org/obesity

Carolyn Dennis, MS, RD, LD, LDE is a Registered Dietitian licensed to practice in KY, as well as a Licensed Diabetes Educator. She has served as a consultant to Shaping Kentucky’s Future Collaborative and is past president of the KY Dietetic Association. Carolyn served as Health Commissioner of the Kentucky PTA after serving as chair of the Taskforce on Childhood Obesity, and successfully working for passage of the so-called “Junk Food bill”, which places nutritional guidelines on competitive foods sold in Kentucky schools. Contact her at Carolyn.Dennis@roadrunner.com.



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