New Jersey Starts Agency to Help Fight Obesity

TRENTON, NJ — New Jersey's new Office of Nutrition and Fitness will coordinate state programs aimed at preventing obesity. The office, expected to open this summer, will oversee more than $2 million in nutrition and fitness programs and will work to implement the New Jersey Obesity Prevention Task Force's recommendations outlined in its 2006 report, “The New Jersey Obesity Prevention Action Plan.”

Dr. Fred M. Jacobs, commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Health and Senior Services, says he wants to tackle the obesity problem through education, support groups and encouraging physical activity, rather than by banning particular foods. Jacobs also is mulling the idea of having schools notify parents through report cards about children with weight problems.

Morton Downey, spokesman for The Obesity Society, which represents doctors, researchers and others in the field, says he knows of no other state with a dedicated agency fighting obesity and called New Jersey's initiative an encouraging step that could become a national model.

According to a 2004 survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), New Jersey has the highest percentage of overweight and obese children under age 5. New Jersey's black and Latino youth are more likely to be overweight than white youths. Almost 23 percent of New Jersey's residents are considered obese, and another 37 percent are overweight, according to the CDC.

Recently, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and the New Jersey Council on Physical Fitness hosted the second annual Leaders' Academy for Healthy Community Development for mayors, educators, local health officials and others concerned with community health.

The Academy encourages healthy changes at the community level by training participants and offering mini-grants of up to $10,000 that can be used for such projects as walking clubs, swimming lessons, or starting a community or school garden. At least 20 communities have received mini-grants.

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