Florida on the Move’s Obesity Summit Draws a Capacity Crowd

Healthy People, Healthy Community, a Summit on Obesity sponsored by Florida on the Move with the support of AstraZeneca September 30 drew a capacity crowd from throughout Florida and as far away as Georgia and Indiana.

The speakers alternately sized up the obesity problem and the impact it has on individuals and businesses, discussed ways to approach it and talked about the benefits of community partnerships.

Dr. Dot Richardson, an Orlando surgeon and former Olympian, put words into action and led the 250-plus crowd on a pre-lunch walk. Barbara West, WFTV Channel 9 anchor and health reporter, was host for the event.

Lead-off speaker Jim Hill, co-founder of America on the Move, reviewed the many factors contributing to the obesity epidemic, ranging from fast foods and technology to portion sizes and video games.

He explained that America on the Move promotes making small changes—environmental and behavioral—that can halt the annual weight gain faced by most Americans. It involves taking people wherever they happen to be fitness-wise and moving them towards a healthy lifestyle.

America on the Move, and its affiliate Florida on the Move, encourage participants to walk an additional 2000 steps and eat 100 fewer calories each day.

Dr. Hill noted the importance of getting community leaders involved as well as private business.

Dr. Paul Garrett Jr., Senior Medical Director for the Florida Hospital Health Care System and a member of Orange County’s Florida on the Move planning team, noted the diminished quality of life that accompanies obesity. It has the same association with chronic health conditions as does 20 years of aging, he said.

Individuals born in 2000, he added, have a one in three chance of being diagnosed with diabetes, a major community health concern linked to obesity.

Communities are the logical place for initiating change when it comes to health care, said Dr. Marcia Comstock, with the Wye River Group on Healthcare. When it comes to community efforts to fight obesity, she noted the need for visible and respected national health leaders, as well as local champions, all giving the same messages. She also stressed the importance of partners, bringing a broad coalition of the public and private sector as well as faith-based groups, and the need for long-term resources because cultural changes can take 7 to 10 years.

Speaker Eric Finkelstein, Ph.D., health economist with RTI International, noted that about two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, a situation with adverse financial consequences for everyone in the United States. The medical costs for overweight and obesity exceed $90 billion a year, he said, and noted that about nine percent of all medical spending goes to treating obesity-related diseases.

“Obesity is a side-effect of our own success,” he said. Without interventions, the obesity rates will worsen, he added, noting ”Interventions that change costs and benefits(incentives) are most likely to result in changes in behavior.”

The state of Florida has been focusing attention on the obesity epidemic through  the Governor’s Task Force on the Obesity Epidemic, the Secretary’s Summits on Obesity and through the Department of Health-Bureau of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion educational programs, according to speaker Dr. Bonita J. Sorensen, Deputy State Health Officer for Florida.

She reviewed the state’s Obesity Prevention program and mentioned plans to hold a one-day youth summit to provide information and a leadership opportunity for youths focused on physical activity and good nutrition.

Attendees also heard from Debbie Watson, vice president of the Winter Park Health Foundation and Geri Evans, Executive Director of Florida on the Move, who provided a history of local efforts to create Florida on the move and explained how others can join the initiative as an individual or group.  More details about setting up groups for specific audiences like schools, seniors and companies, were provided in breakout sessions at the end of the meeting.