Manassas Journal Messenger | Report: Laziness, overeating make for bloated Virginians

RICHMOND, Va. – Sedentary lifestyles and a “clean your plate” mentality are making Virginians fat, according to a preliminary Health Department report that suggests mandatory gym classes and higher taxes on all-you-can-eat buffets.

The report also recommends a statewide “Just Say No” campaign to supersizing and more and safer exercise areas in neighborhoods.

It’s the latest phase of the state’s CHAMPION obesity initiative, and compiles suggestions from 800 community members who gathered at regional forums, said Jeremy Akers, a dietitian who heads the program through with the Virginia Department of Health.

The information will be compiled in a final report next summer offering statewide strategies for curbing obesity, he said.

Last year, 23.7 percent of 1,027 Virginians surveyed were obese, up from 9.9 percent of 170 respondents in 1990, according to the federal Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System. The rate puts Virginians among states whose residents have the fastest-growing bellies. Akers estimated two out of three adult Virginians are overweight.

Most overweight Virginians lack nutritional knowledge, don’t have the money and time to purchase and cook healthy foods and aren’t getting good messages about what to eat, the report says.

In Roanoke, for instance, forums revealed confusion about reading food labels and whether to count calories from juice drinks.

People are getting mixed messages from doctors, TV and grocery stores, Akers said.

Ideas for a comprehensive solution to the obesity problem varied from region to region.

In central Virginia, for instance, residents suggested lower taxes on healthy foods and insurance incentives for fit workers, while in northern Virginia participants thought there should be mandatory nutrition training for anyone receiving public assistance.

As much as 23 percent of children ages 2 to 5 receiving state assistance through the Women, Infants and Children program are overweight or at risk, Akers said.

In the Blue Ridge region, community leaders wanted to see higher taxes for fatty buffets and foods sold in jumbo portion sizes, in addition to a “burger tax” on fast food restaurants.

Many suggestions concerned nutrition education in schools. Those included mandatory home economics and gym classes, statewide fitness testing at the start of each school year and legislation requiring parental notice if a child’s weight reaches a critical stage.

Hampton participants urged 150 minutes of physical activity a week for all public school students _ even if it means extending the school day.

While state guidelines mandate physical education for elementary, middle and high schoolers, there is no rule on how much or how often.

“A lot of the reports coming out now are saying that our children now are not going live as long as we do,” said Akers, who thought the emphasis on schools reflected a realization that good health starts during childhood.

Most surprising were some of the cultural findings, among them, that American Indians tend to shun outside nutritional help, Akers said. The report also revealed a new potentially high-risk group: Middle Eastern Americans.

They tend to eat high-calorie carbohydrates like rice, and often revere plumpness as a sign of wealth, according to the report.


On the Net:

Commonwealth’s Healthy Approach and Mobilization Plan for Inactivity, Obesity and Nutrition, CHAMPION,

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