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PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
May 21, 2007

Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D.
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Marilyn Riley
(609) 984-7160


 
DHSS Creates Nutrition and Fitness Office to Lead New Jersey's Fight Against Obesity


 

The Department of Health and Senior Services has created a new Office of Nutrition and Fitness to help lead New Jersey’s fight against obesity -- the nation’s second leading preventable cause of death after smoking -- Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs, M.D., J.D. announced today.

The office will oversee more than $2 million in nutrition and fitness programs and will work to implement the New Jersey Obesity Prevention Task Force’s recommendations outlined in its 2006 report, The New Jersey Obesity Prevention Action Plan.

“Too many of us aren’t eating right or exercising enough and, as a result, nearly 60 percent of us weigh too much,” the Commissioner said.  “It’s time to face these facts and get to work creating a program that supports all of us in making healthy food and fitness choices.  Our health and our children’s health depend on it.”

The new office will coordinate the department’s existing obesity prevention programs. There are programs to promote breastfeeding, promote sports and physical activity at all ages, encourage fruit and vegetable consumption, and provide fresh fruits and vegetables to eligible women, children and seniors.  The new Office of Nutrition and Fitness is expected to open this summer.

“By putting these programs under one roof, we can better focus our resources,” said Eddy Bresnitz, M.D., M.S., state epidemiologist and deputy commissioner.  “This office will also take a leadership role in the state, forging new partnerships with other public and private agencies and seeking additional grant funding.” 

Last week, the department and the New Jersey Council on Physical Fitness hosted the second annual Leaders’ Academy for Healthy Community Development for mayors, educators, local health officials and others concerned with community health.  The Academy encourages healthy changes at the community level by training participants and offering mini-grants of up to $10,000 that can be used for such projects as starting walking clubs, creating walking maps, offering swimming lessons or water aerobics, or even starting a community or school garden, for example.  So far, 20 communities have received mini-grants.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System 2006 data, 22.6 percent of New Jersey adults are obese and 37.3 percent are overweight.

Excess weight is also a serious concern among young people.  New Jersey has the nation’s highest obesity rate in young, low-income children. Additionally, the state’s African-American and Latino youth are more likely to be overweight than are white youths.

Excess weight puts individuals at risk for type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, asthma, depression, arthritis, several types of cancer, and other health problems.

Obesity-related health conditions cost the nation $75 billion a year in medical expenses in 2003, with taxpayers paying half those costs through the Medicare and Medicaid programs.  New Jersey’s share of the national total was $2.3 billion, the Task Force report noted.

 The Action Plan was crafted by a 27-member Task Force established by the Legislature and appointed by Governor Jon S. Corzine.  The Task Force recommended New Jersey create one office to coordinate obesity prevention efforts and to implement programs related to five key areas for intervention -- improved nutrition, increased fruit and vegetable consumption, increased physical activity, exclusive breastfeeding of infants, and decreased time spent on television, computers and video games.

The Task Force also outlined a series of goals and action steps in each of the five areas, and called for all parts of communities to get involved in supporting healthy behaviors that can help reduce obesity.  The Task Force described action steps for federal, state and local government; local organizations and neighborhoods; public and non-public schools; workplaces; and healthcare systems and health professionals.

Special efforts are also needed to target high-risk groups -- such as African-Americans, Latinos and low-income people -- to decrease their disproportionately high rates of overweight and obese people.  The full report can be viewed on the department’s web site at www.nj.gov/health/fhs/documents/obesity_prevention.pdf.

Other state agencies have launched initiatives that promote healthy nutrition and physical activity.  They include:

  • Department of Transportation – The $15 million Safe Routes to School program helps communities create safer walkways, bikeways and street crossings near schools. It is part of Governor Jon Corzine’s $74 million initiative to improve pedestrian safety statewide.
  • Department of Agriculture – By September, all New Jersey public schools must implement the state’s model school nutrition policy, which limits the fat and sugar content of foods offered. Schools are currently phasing in their policies; 57 percent of schools are already in compliance.
  • Department of Education – The State Board of Education has revised the Core Curriculum Content Standards to increase the emphasis on nutrition and fitness, including healthy ways to get fit and maintain a proper weight.
  • New Jersey State Workforce – DHSS and the Department of Personnel have created the Working Well NJ initiative to encourage public employee wellness by providing up-to-date health information and links to other sources of health information.  Visit the web site at: http://www.state.nj.us/personnel/wellness/index.htm.

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