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For Release:
May 11, 2010

Poonam Alaigh, MD, MSHCPM, FACP

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Office of Communications
(609) 984-7160

Statewide Partnership Moves to Combat Obesity in New Jersey


More than 130 members of a public-private partnership met at a conference today to begin implementing a statewide plan that would combat obesity, making it easier for people to make healthier nutrition and fitness choices.


Health and Senior Services Commissioner Dr. Poonam Alaigh today addressed the Partnership for Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity Prevention at the Robert Wood Johnson Hamilton Center for Health and Wellness, telling them that public-private partnerships are especially important in difficult economic times when everyone is looking to maximize resources by working together.


“This public-private partnership demonstrates a commitment to reverse the obesity epidemic in New Jersey,” said Dr. Alaigh. “We need to empower people to take charge of their health by making it easier for them to lead a healthier lifestyle. There are many steps our communities can take, such as making parks safer, adding bike paths and bringing in farmers markets to offer fresh fruits and vegetables.’’


Today’s conference followed more than a year of planning.


“Obesity is at epidemic levels in New Jersey and nationally.  Those who are obese are at grave risk of lifelong, chronic health problems like heart disease, asthma, arthritis and cancer,” Dr. Alaigh told the group.


New Jersey has an adult obesity rate of 23 percent, which places the state 10th lowest in the nation.  Among youth 10 to 17 years of age, 31 percent are overweight.


Of 40 states that report obesity data among low-income children 2 to 5 years of age, New Jersey has one of the highest rates at nearly 18 percent, according to the New Jersey Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance System in 2008


“Experts tell us that this generation of children may be the first to have shorter life expectancies than their parents,” said Dr. Alaigh.


In 2008, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded the DHSS Office of Nutrition and Fitness $4.1 million over five years to improve the health of at-risk populations in low-income and minority communities.  The CDC grant targeted six health and fitness goals: increase breastfeeding, physical activity and consumption of fruits and vegetables; and decrease sugar-sweetened beverages, fatty foods and TV viewing.


The grant directs the state to concentrate its efforts on five settings: Schools, communities, child care centers, worksites and health care facilities. 


In response, New Jersey established “Shaping NJ,” a partnership which currently includes 75 health, education, parks and recreation, agriculture and business organizations.


The Partnership recently received an additional $800,000 in federal funds for a two-year obesity prevention initiative, which will be implemented as part of the partnership’s strategic plan.


New Jersey has already implemented a number of best practices and programs to combat obesity.  In January 2010, the state passed a law requiring food chains with 20 or more locations nationally to provide calorie counts for food and beverages.  The law will take effect in 2011.  New Jersey is one of 19 states that have stricter nutritional standards for school lunches, breakfasts and snacks than mandated by federal U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements.


The state’s efforts to combat obesity include health, fitness and safety programs like Safe Routes to School, a program of the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) which encourages bicycling and walking.  Another NJDOT program, Complete Streets, promotes walking and biking policies in collaboration with local jurisdictions.  The Coordinated School Health Program is a CDC-funded program that promotes physical activity, nutrition and tobacco-use prevention among students.  A new 2009 Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food package encourages WIC participants to breastfeed and eat more healthy foods.


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