- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - In South Carolina, where obesity among young people ranks second in the nation, children can expect to live shorter lives than their parents if current obesity rates continue to plague the state, health officials said Wednesday as they introduced their new plan to attack the problem.

“Today, we move from talk to coordinated action,” said Catherine Templeton, director of the Department of Health and Environmental Control, announcing a blueprint that pulls together 800 health organizations, business leaders, researchers, nonprofits and volunteers in the effort.

Templeton said obesity is at the core of many ailments such as high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and heart disease. It ends up costing the state an estimated $8.5 billion per year, and such costs are continuing to rise, she said in a written statement.

The new plan recommends specific actions that can be taken by communities, in schools, at worksites and by health care providers.

For example, it suggests increasing access to affordable fruits and vegetables by boosting the number of local farmers’ markets that accept food stamps. It calls for workplaces to encourage breastfeeding, set up tobacco-free areas and improve access to healthy meals and physical activity.

The plan says health organizations should improve their efforts to diagnose obesity among patients, offer counseling and get them support to combat it. The program also calls for a major focus among schools and child care operations, suggesting they participate in “farm to school” programs that put more fresh fruits and vegetables in children’s meals and snacks, and get children to exercise more.

Templeton also unveiled a website to help members of the public find resources to help them in their efforts at www.SCaledown.org . She set a variety of goals for the next two years, and pledged to report on what action has been accomplished.

Earlier this month, a report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that more than 21 percent of young people in the South Carolina between ages 10 and 17 are considered obese, the second highest rate in the nation. The report found that South Carolina’s adult obesity rate is now almost 32 percent, up from 25 percent a decade ago and 12 percent in 1990.

Obesity is defined as an excessively high amount of body fat compared to lean body mass.

Dr. Janice Key from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston says the plan unifies many diverse efforts to combat obesity.

“We will no longer simply react to statistics about the bad health of South Carolinians, but we will reduce and prevent these diseases by promoting healthy lifestyles in our health care systems, our schools, our businesses, and our communities,” said Key, who is the director for school and community programs at the medical school’s Boeing Center for Children’s Wellness.

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Follow Susanne M. Schafer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/susannemarieap

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