Tuesday November 20, 2012

The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition’s "Mass in Motion" anti-obesity campaign got off to an impressive start last Friday when a group of about 150 concerned citizens turned out at the MCLA campus in North Adams to hear guest speaker Mark Fenton, a national public health consultant. The NBCC initiative should be part of a long-term county-wide campaign to address a devastating and costly health problem that confronts far too many of our young people.

Western Massachusetts had an obesity rate of 60 percent five years ago, according to an alarming 2009 report by the state Department of Public Health, compared to 50 percent for the rest of the state, and while anti-obesity efforts over the past five years may have reduced that number, visual evidence suggests that it has not. Exercise is a great way to lose weight, and the NBCC campaign, which is backed by state DPH funding, is exploring ways to develop and publicize places for safe walking. Grocery stores and even some fast food restaurants are now providing healthier eating options, but residents must still choose to take advantage of them.

Because obesity leads to diabetes, high blood pressure and other health problems, it dramatically escalates health care costs for everyone. Without help, obese children will live shorter lives than their peers. One good way to lower health care costs is prevention, and employers should work with employees to institute wellness programs. In Massachusetts, health care reform (Romneycare) emphasizes preventive care programs, as does the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which is now safely the law of the land and will pay dividends in this regard and many others.

A letter writer on this page notes the irony of the placement of Monday’s story on the NBCC anti-obesity initiative next to a photo of Hostess Twinkies advancing an A2 story on the endangered treat, but a genuine link can be perceived. If people can avoid Twinkies and other fattening foods devoid of nutrients that will hasten the day when obesity and Twinkies will cease to be newsworthy.