A new report is attracting the attention of medical professionals. It’s called “The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America” and what it reveals about the state of New Jersey’s health is concerning. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation‘s New Jersey Health Initiatives Director Dr. Bob Atkins recently sat down with Correspondent Lyndsay Christian.
Christian: Dr. Atkins, the report finds that New Jersey is the 36th obese state, nationally, with an adult obesity rate of 27.4 percent. So, does this mean that a portion of the state is considered obese?
Atkins: It definitely does. A portion of New Jersey, as with almost every other state, there is a significant portion of the population that is obese.
Christian: So, how has the obesity rate changed nationally over the past 20 years and specifically in New Jersey?
Atkins: Well, I think what this report really suggests is some good news. We have really started to slow adult obesity in New Jersey and nationwide. And as you know from looking at the report, obesity as a crisis and to be able to slow it down is a sign that we are starting to do something right and we need to do more of what we’ve been doing to continue this trend in adult obesity and childhood obesity.
Christian: So, specifically what is New Jersey doing to address what you call a crisis in obesity in tackling these numbers?
Atkins: New Jersey has done some really interesting and really important things around addressing obesity. And we look at those in three specific areas: one is around early childhood, one looking at what’s happening in the schools and third looking at what is happening in the communities. And, because we understand that it’s much easier to prevent obesity than reverse obesity, it’s really important to focus on childhood. And, New Jersey has done some great things. We have some great work happening across the state and right here in the city of Camden, in Newark, in Trenton, in Paterson. All of these communities are looking at doing things that are going to address how we’re thinking about obesity, how we’re working together to address obesity. So things like farmers markets, addressing what is happening in schools in terms of looking what’s on the menu for kids, what they’re eating and putting in their bodies, reducing screen time, increasing access to parks and playgrounds. And, really at the community level, thinking about how do we design community environments so that they’re better able to encourage walking and exercise and recreation and all of those things we know contribute to healthier ways.
Christian: You just spoke to basically starting them young, teaching them healthy habits young, so that as they transition into adulthood, it’ll be easier to make healthy choices. Dr. Atkins, break down the racial and ethnic disparities. Why do we see this difference?
Atkins: Well, I think we know that obesity in a lot of ways, it kind of tells us a lot about what’s happening in terms of opportunity for health and this question of equity. Obesity really kind of gets at that. We look at that. In some ways it stands in for the equity issues of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, access to really educational opportunities that we know are really affected by obesity. We know that also access to parks and playgrounds. I mean sometimes, we take it for granted, especially in our more advantaged communities, that a kid can go to a park or a playground. But we know in places, in our more distressed communities across the state, that a lot of children who grow up in those neighborhoods do not have access to parks and playgrounds and do not have access to those recreational opportunities within their schools. Things like recess, that’s very important, physical education. So these things are really affected by where you live and we know that obesity, of course, is associated with where you live.
Christian: So it’s important to, of course, get active and be mindful of your food intake. What are some recommendations that the report offers in reference to statewide initiatives that can be better implemented?
Atkins: Some of the things are really kind of common sense recommendations. Obviously, parents they can really show the kids through their own behavior, model eating fresh fruits and vegetables, eating well and drinking enough water. We know that things like breastfeeding is really important and we know that it is associated with the ideal weight in children. Less screen time, those kinds of things are important. I think what is really exciting and encouraging about this report is it suggests that we are starting to make really great inroads into understanding how we address obesity by getting upstream. We work, play, live and learn. And that means that all of us have a role in addressing obesity. It means that our elected officials, and our teachers, and our parents, and our faith based groups all have a role in thinking about obesity.
Christian: It’s really a community-wide initiative, a community effort, to put us all in the correct tracks so that we can hopefully decrease that obesity rate. Dr. Atkins, thank you so much for joining us in helping us to better understand this report.
Atkins: Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.