"Obesity is the new public health challenge," Kelly said.

She said the county would save $12 million per year, in terms of days lost from work or other productivity measures, if Harford residents raised their activity levels by just 5 percent.

She said 42 percent of men and about 30 percent of women are overweight, and 11 percent of all adults in Harford have diabetes.

As part of the Healthy Harford initiative, the health department recommended a resolution to develop obesity prevention and sent a letter to the county's planning and zoning department supporting increased "walkability and bikeability" in the county.


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"The suggestions have been incorporated into the land use plan that is out there currently for public comment," Kelly said, referring to the draft 2012 master plan that is online for public comment through Nov. 10.

Of the top causes of death in Harford — cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes – tobacco use seems to be a major factor, Kelly said.

Harford's total cancer mortality rate is 185.8 deaths per 100,000. The rate for Maryland is 177.7.

Kelly called Harford's higher smoking rates "very disturbing" in light of all the information available about the dangers of tobacco.

The top cancers are lung and breast cancers.

"Those two we really need to look at, but if you think about it, lung cancer is very much associated with smoking," Russell Moy, deputy health officer, said. "It's distressing in Harford County that we do worse than the state average."

Moy said those numbers do have a racial component: the cancer mortality rate is 190 per 100,000 for blacks and 185 per 100,000 for whites.

"With cancer, we need to zero in on what are the causes," Moy said, pointing again to stroke and chronic pulmonary disease also being connected with tobacco use.

"It's almost not a mystery what we need to zero in on," he said.