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Taking a bite out of obesity

PRINCETON — Whether or not everyone agrees with the American Medical Association’s recent recognition of obesity as not just a problem but rather as an actual disease, there is no doubt obesity can cause a lot of problems, according to local health leaders.

On Tuesday, Bureau/Putnam County Health Department Administrator Diana Rawlings and health educator Joy Jaraczewski talked about obesity in Bureau and Putnam counties.

Disease is a strong term for obesity, but obesity is a strong malady, Rawlings said.
Whether obesity is defined as a disease or not, the fact remains there are some serious concerns which go with being overweight or obese, she said.

For instance, weight issues may lead to heart disease, diabetes, breathing problems, and strains on the entire body, as well as overall well-being and mental health issues, Rawlings said. With children, being overweight or obese may have long-term effects on their lifestyle habits, she added.

Last year, the local health department completed the 2012-16 Illinois Project for Local Assessment of Needs (IPLAN) for Bureau and Putnam counties, which determined weight is a problem for a lot of people in the two county-area.

According to the IPLAN research, approximately 67 percent of adults in Bureau and Putnam counties are overweight or obese, Rawlings said. In addition, the average child in sixth through 12th grades is either overweight or obese. Also, only 33 percent of adults and 15 percent of youth in the two-county area eat four or more vegetables or fruits a day.

The local health department’s primary efforts are to educate people about the problems associated with being overweight or obese, Jaraczewski said, adding those programs are focused primarily on the schools and educating children about the importance of physical activity and health food choices.

The health department has recently received the “We Chose Health” grant which is being used, in part, to develop a work site wellness initiatives program. Starting with the local health department, the pilot program includes 10-minute walk breaks for the staff and will also look at starting bike rides for the staff. As the program is developed, the health department hopes to reach out to other businesses to implement their own worksite wellness initiatives for their staffs as well.

Developing a healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, Jaraczewski said. There are many parks in the area, as well as the walking and bike trails. Residents can also enjoy walking around their communities and neighborhoods and gardening, she said.

As far as healthier eating, people can take advantage of the local farmers’ markets during the summer months, and there are a plethora of good resources out there on healthy food choices and recipes, she said.

Though some people may feel overwhelmed when it comes to tackling a weight issue, that doesn’t have to be the case, Jaraczewski said. People can start small. They don’t have to join a fitness club or purchase workout equipment at the beginning unless they are very serious about making the changes, she said.

Rawlings agreed.

“Just make it (healthy lifestyle) a priority, even if you have to start small,” Rawlings said. “We can all make small steps, but first you have to want it. If you want it, then there is a better chance of positive changes becoming habit.”

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