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State Health Officer responds to new obesity report


The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — Dr. Rahul Gupta, state health officer and commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, already has a number of initiatives underway to help West Virginia address its obesity crisis.

According to The State of Obesity, an annual report published by Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, West Virginia is now No. 1 in the nation for obesity, with 37.7 percent of adults in categorized as obese.

Dr. Raoul Gupta

“While we’re No. 1, we’ve been in the top two or three states for many, many years,” Gupta said. “Obesity is one of the top three priorities in the state to begin with, along with substance abuse and smoking.”

The Bureau for Public Health in January 2016 published a report, “Addressing Obesity and Related Chronic Diseases: A Strategic Plan to Combat Obesity and Related Chronic Diseases in West Virginia.”

The five-year plan encourages policy and environmental changes that support healthy eating, physical activity and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Gupta said many collaborators are working with the Bureau for Public Health to address the crisis, including educational agencies, community and nonprofit organizations, health care providers and insurers, worksites and chronic disease prevention partners.

Ways to prevent obesity mentioned in the plan include promotion of breastfeeding, improving community environments to encourage physical activity, improving access to healthy foods through farmer’s markets and community gardens, early care and education and partnerships with schools.

“We want to focus on early childhood education,” Gupta said. “We know when a child understands what is right to eat, it will establish lifelong healthy choices.”

Gupta said the Bureau for Public Health is also working with health plans, including Medicaid, to offer self-management classes as a covered benefit.

He said by 2018, Medicare will pay for pre-diabetes management.

“Pre-diabetes is a time we can actually avoid progression on to diabetes. You don’t have to get diabetes. You can avoid it.”

Within West Virginia’s statistics, obesity was most prevalent among those ages 26 to 44.

To help fight obesity among working West Virginians, Gupta said a program called well@work has been created.

The Bureau for Public Health is currently working with Boards of Education across the state to offer this program to staff. Active Southern West Virginia has also expressed interest in this initiative.

Employers interested in getting a program started in their office can reach out to the Division of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease at 304-356-4193.

“We have the tools,” Gupta said. “If you as an employee want a healthy workplace, this is what you can do.”

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Email: [email protected] and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren

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