Executive Summary

The epidemic of overweight and obesity has become one of the most critical public health threats for New Yorkers and Americans. This epidemic has affected all age groups, boys and girls, men and women, and reached across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Obesity rates increased slightly during the 1970's, but escalated for both children and adults during the 1980's and 1990's. While the rate of increase may be slowing among adults, there are no signs that the epidemic of childhood obesity is abating. In fact, overweight and obesity are increasing problems in young children, setting the stage for the obesity epidemic to continue far into the future. As a result, for the first time in history, children are predicted to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

By 2010, some have predicted that the root causes of the obesity epidemic—poor nutrition and physical inactivity—will become the leading underlying causes of preventable deaths in the U.S. The costs, both financial and personal, associated with obesity are also increasing, in part, because obesity leads to higher rates of many diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, asthma, arthritis, disability and a number of psychological conditions, including depression.

Stopping the obesity epidemic will not be easy, but there are precedents for success in other public health endeavors. It will require the input, hard work, skills, talents and perseverance of many people, a wide array of organizations and groups, including the medical, educational, non-profit and business communities, academia and government. While there is a role for individual behavior change, populationfocused prevention efforts require both decreasing environmental barriers to and supporting healthy food choices and physically active lifestyles. A multifaceted public health policy campaign is needed, with special attention to selected groups, including Hispanics, Blacks, and Native Americans, and communities experiencing health disparities and social and physical environments unsupportive of healthy eating and physical activity.

To address this important issue in New York State (NYS), the State Department of Health coordinated a strategic planning process involving a broad array of stakeholders and experts represented by the 33-member steering committee, six workgroups, two site-specific workgroups and 14 community forums held throughout New York State. The discussions identified lack of funding and resources to implement efforts in each community, transportation issues, school noncompliance with state policies governing physical education, and lack of communication between parents and children as barriers to improving physical activity and nutrition to prevent obesity.

To decrease overweight and obesity, community participants identified their top three priorities as: 1) increase the proportion of New Yorkers who are physically active; 2) increase perception of obesity as a public health risk and use of Body Mass Index to improve early recognition, and 3) increase access to healthy food choices, particularly by low-income populations.

Participants expressed the most interest in 1) improving access to physical activity opportunities, 2) fruit and vegetable consumption, and 3) improving the school environment to promote physical activity and improved nutrition.

This report summarizes the deliberations of this working group, outlines goals and objectives, and highlights strategies and action steps that are critical to controlling this epidemic.

Strategic Plan Vision

All New Yorkers will achieve and maintain a healthy weight

Strategic Plan Mission

To decrease the prevalence of overweight and obesity, and to reduce the burden of obesityrelated diseases by improving healthy eating and increasing physical activity.