Be Well: A look at obesity in 2013

Jeanine Small and her daughter Amari
Jeanine Small and her daughter Amari

The word obesity and the topics of proper diet and exercise seemed to be on everyone's minds in 2013.

"When you look at your child's chart and you see the words obesity, you feel like you've failed your child as a parent," says Jeanine Small, a mother in Northeast Ohio.

"The risk factors for heart disease and diabetes and the other problems they have are so much more serious, says Aaron Kelly representing the American Heart Association.

"We can't just expect that because we tell people you should eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day that they're going to be able to go out and do that," says Alison Patrick of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health.

Their voices represent a small portion of what was heard in ideastream television and radio stories throughout the year. Reporters talked with people who were struggling with obesity in their own lives as well as doctors and politicians working to change society's eating and exercise habits.

Right here in Northeast Ohio, there are doctors who are searching for answers in the womb - before babies are born. We talked to schools who are introducing new ways of exercising in the classrooms. And we aired television specials with stories and resources for those who are searching for help in tackling problems like childhood obesity, diabetes and cancer.

What became clear throughout all of this is obesity is an issue that is not going away any time soon. The Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Steve Nissen called it an alarming trend.

"We have an epidemic here that is literally a catastrophe waiting to happen," Nissen says.

In early December, the annual America's Health Rankings were released and Ohio - as the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Angela Townsend wrote - is in a "world of hurt."

Nearly 12 percent of people in the Buckeye state struggle with diabetes, which is closely linked to obesity. Thirty percent of Ohio adults are obese - which, according to the study, is a little bit worse than the national average of 27.6 percent.

There are efforts to change those statistics in 2014.

For example, the Healthy Cleveland initiative is requiring healthier food in city buildings and at city-partnered organizations like the Foodbank.

Local leaders like City Councilman Joe Cimperman say we can expect to hear more about that effort in the coming year.

On the national stage, Dr. William Dietz, former director of Nutrition, Physical Activity & Obesity at the Centers for Disease Control, is giving talks across the country to encourage a more proactive approach in communities.

The focus should not be just on people losing weight, he told WVIZ health reporter Kay Colby. After all, people lose weight all the time. The problem - as too many of us know - is keeping it off.

"What we need to do is to focus on the sustainability of weight loss and that's going to take not only behavior changes on the part of patients but changes in the environment in which they live - an environment which currently does not make physical activity easy and does not make food choices easy," Dietz says.

So, as we look forward to the New Year, we can hope to hear more from people like Dietz, as well as local leaders, about the next challenge for tackling obesity: creating a world that is more balanced and an environment that lends itself to being active and healthy.

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