Harford County obesity task force releases final report

With Harford County's obesity rate jumping by 130 percent during the last decade, the Obesity Task Force released its final report Tuesday on how it plans to battle the bulge in the coming years.

Two-thirds of the county's population (63.5 percent) is considered overweight or obese, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.

In the mid-1990s, the county's obesity rate was 11.4 percent overall. Today, it is 26.2 percent; 37.3 percent of the county's population is considered overweight.

The report also shows 9.7 percent of youth are obese.

The county hopes to get 41.4 percent of adults and 9 percent of youth to a healthy weight in 2014.

Final recommendations from the subcommittees, which were headed by Health Department Director Susan Kelly and vice-chair County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, include the following:

• Encourage access to healthy food.

• Support school wellness.

• Implement the bike and pedestrian master plan.

• Encourage multimodal and active transportation.

• Encourage changes that emphasize active movement.

• Implement the 2012 land preservation parks and recreation plan.

• Create and employ a unified message of healthy eating and active living.

• Establish healthy designation programs.

• Sustain obesity task force initiatives.

One idea includes an initiative called Healthy Harford Restaurants, which would give incentives to restaurants that offer at least three healthy menu items, post nutrition information, are trans-fat free and smoke-free and commit to obtaining food management or comparable certification.

The 15-member task force has met since Oct. 18, 2011, and focused on access to healthy food, the built environment and community engagement.

Lisanti said the final report exceeded her expectations for the task force, noting how important it is for changes to be made to get the county healthy.

"I hope today is the beginning of a time that we reverse that trend," she said. "An unhealthy community is just unsustainable."

Lisanti said it is important to consider having a wellness coordinator.

"There has to be someone that pulls all these pieces," she said, adding she looks forward to continuing the effort.

Councilman Dion Guthrie said the county's obesity rate equates to 171,000 people.

He said an emphasis should be put on getting junk food out of places like schools and libraries.

"One thing I think we can do a lot better is the kind of drinks we sell out of the machines in public facilities," he said. "I think we really want to take a hard look at what we dispense out of our machines."

Kelly replied that when the task force works with schools, businesses and child care centers, that will absolutely be a component.

"We want people to drink more water instead of sodas," she said.

Kelly also said she wants a campaign to address the issue of water and fluoride, noting that a lot of bottled water does not contain fluoride.

"We have a lot of work to do but I think we are starting to move the needle," she said.

Lisanti also noted that 31 percent of pre-schoolers were obese in 2009.

Council President Billy Boniface said the initiatives could also tie in with a greater emphasis on buying local food.

"This is an opportunity for us to promote our local agriculture as a healthier thing," he said.

Lisanti replied there is a component of connecting local farmers with schools and the general public.

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