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Michigan is 5th heaviest in nation: Health officials target obesity epidemic


Many Michigan residents are carrying an unhealthy amount of weight and the problem is getting worse.

Michigan is the fifth-heaviest state in the nation, according to Michigan Department of Community Health Director James Haveman.

"In 1995, 18% of the adult population was obese in Michigan. By 2010, it had increased to 32 percent," Haveman says. "Currently in Michigan, some 800,000 children and five million adults have a weight problem. If unchanged, obesity could reach 50 percent by 2030."

It's estimated Michigan will spend more than $12 billion on obesity-related medical costs by 2018.

Being overweight can lead to Type-2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and stroke.

So the state has rolled out the "MI Healthier Tomorrow"  campaign.

It asks people to pledge to lose 10 percent of their body weight.

People can sign up online to get a free start-up kit, as well as online or text support.

The Mi Healthier Tomorrow strategy will use multiple platforms to spread awareness about the dangers of obesity.

Community institutions and organizations, employers and schools are participating in the campaign.

Valerie A. Glesnes-Anderson is executive director of Capital Area Health Alliance.

"We're looking at ways to help people in urban, rural and suburban areas," Glesnes-Anderson says of her agency's "Choosing Health!" program. We're encouraging and developing the growth of farmers markets, and adopting policies to help people get better access to better food and better exercise."

Kathy Forzley is with the Oakland County Health Division. "High poverty, high unemployment, high obesity rates and high early-death rates are all factors in our community."

She says a number of programs are already underway.

"We have a coalition of 38 members addressing access to healthy foods. We're setting up neighborhood produce markets which will offer at-cost produce in neighborhoods in Pontiac communities," Forzley says. "We're offering taste-testing because we're finding that people may have  been reluctant to buy some vegetables because they didn't know how to use  them. We have cooking demos to show how to cook affordably, and we're finding enormous success."

Three years ago, Genesee County was ranked the unhealthiest county in Michigan. A national study showed that 71% of county residents were obese or overweight, particularly in Flint. Tobacco use was another contributing factor to the region's poor health.

Michigan's Native American community also struggles with obesity-related health issues. "We recognize our higher rates of obesity," says Derek Bailey, President of the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan. "We recognize the early age of onset."

Schools are also playing a role in encouraging healthy eating.

"We had a contest for children in which they were encouraged to develop healthy snacks," says Glesnes-Anderson. "We had nutritionists help kids understand what it meant to eat healthy. It wasn't just the event itself, it was the opportunity to engage with schools and have them understand what it means to encourage their students and their families to think about healthy lifestyles."