NC languishing in the throes of obesity

July 16, 2013 

North Carolina is blessed with majestic mountains, expansive beaches, meandering rivers and streams and a year-around climate that begs our residents to go outside and play. We boast municipal, state and national parks; community recreation programs; winter and summer sports; road races and countless more opportunities to move and be active.

North Carolina is also blessed with a diverse agriculture that provides a cornucopia of fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and other farm products. A growing and robust network of farmers’ markets and farm stands, school and community gardens, and food-focused community initiatives make eating healthy more appealing and accessible than ever.

Given such rich natural and developing resources, who would believe North Carolina continues to languish in the throes of an obesity epidemic? In spite of its natural and man-made resources, the Tar Heel State is not immune to the devastating effect of unhealthy weight that continues to threaten our health and economic well-being.

Nearly two-thirds of North Carolina adults and 1 in 3 youth are overweight or obese. These numbers reflect a public health crisis that has led to increased risk factors and rates for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and lower life quality for far too many North Carolinians.

More than a decade ago, a small group of concerned and devoted health leaders met to develop a response to the obesity epidemic in North Carolina. This small group discussion quickly grew to a grassroots statewide movement named Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina. The movement promotes the use of evidence-based strategies that make healthy eating and active living easier for all North Carolinians. More than 85 organizations across the state have joined. In addition, hundreds of companies, agencies, schools, congregations and individuals use the movement’s resources and guidance.

In 2007, Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina released its first N.C. Obesity Prevention Plan and in January 2013 released the second edition of a state plan titled “North Carolina’s Plan to Address Obesity: Healthy Weight and Healthy Communities.” This new plan provides our state and local leaders proven strategies for helping residents achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

The plan is unique to North Carolina. It builds upon our existing assets and resources, and encourages all sectors of society to combine resources to reduce duplication of effort.

Throughout its history, North Carolina has been known for its rugged independence, its resilience, its adaptability and stubborn determination to overcome challenges. When North Carolinians find a common foe, we unite and fight as one.

Such a collaborative spirit is essential to combat obesity and move residents to healthy weight. We have unmatched natural and human resources. We have a new plan. We have proven strategies that work. I encourage all North Carolina leaders, officials and residents to use the plan, join the movement, eat smart and move more.

David Gardner is executive director of the N.C. Center for Health and Wellness at UNC Asheville and a past chairman of Eat Smart, Move More NC Leadership Team.

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