Suffolk must fight obesity at all ages

Published 8:52 pm Thursday, March 17, 2011

By GinaPitrone

When a community comes together for any cause, it is inspiring. This was especially the case last Friday, when a couple hundred concerned citizens gathered for the Diabesity Forum. Obici Healthcare Foundation, host of the event, would like to publicly thank everyone who attended.

Community leaders, medical professionals, Suffolk Public School System representatives, local government officials and even students assembled to learn more about how Western Tidewater residents are affected by obesity and diabetes.

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The Foundation, aided by numerous agencies from across the region, hosted the Diabesity Forum to bring awareness to an epidemic that is only becoming larger. Local medical professionals estimate that 25 percent of children in Suffolk are obese — higher than the national average of one in five children.

Recent studies show that Western Tidewater has the highest diabetes mortality rate in the commonwealth. Even more alarming than these statistics is that they are estimates; there is no true account for how many adults or children in our local area are overweight, obese or have chronic diseases such as diabetes.

The Foundation staff and Board of Directors believe that without a comprehensive plan, Suffolk and the entire Western Tidewater region may lose sight of the importance of preventing and intervening in the obesity epidemic.

Too often, people who are overweight or obese put off becoming healthy because they think that they will have time to do so later. However, research has shown that 60-90 percent of all patients with diagnosed Type 2 diabetes have been obese in the past or are currently obese. This means that prevention is the best tool to help curb obesity and overweight-related chronic diseases.

The Diabesity Forum was a call to action for Western Tidewater. Testimonials from moving speakers such as Anita Keegan and Suffolk Mayor Linda Johnson helped to encapsulate the real-life aspect of the day and demonstrated that everyone is affected by weight and chronic disease.

Participants were a part of discussions about physical activity, nutrition and community engagement as they pertain to obesity and diabetes. Not only did participants learn about current and future programs happening in Western Tidewater, but they shared their own ideas.

Attendees were also reminded of why stopping this epidemic should be important to everyone, including the youth of the region. Children are more at risk for being overweight or obese, because they cannot control what their parents make for dinner, they cannot make parks safe and so they tend to become products of their environments, at home and at school.

As the day progressed, the Suffolk Public School System showcased a few of its programs. The morning was jumpstarted by the Nansemond River High School Drum Line and Driver Elementary School Jump Rope Team.

Midday, the culinary students of King’s Fork High School added to the diabetic-friendly lunch with their open-faced tea sandwiches. The afternoon was capped by the Drill Team from Hillpoint Elementary School.

As a part of a new position funded by Obici Healthcare Foundation, wellness coach Tara Worley will be helping all schools implement programs such as those featured to help make each school a site of health success.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Francine Kaufman, joined the forum to discuss how communities can unite to ward off such horrifying statistics. She cited several research studies and best practices that suggest community-wide action. Such community involvement is precisely what the Foundation would like to come from the forum.

Attendees were asked to join one of five work groups (schools, workplace, communities, healthcare system, or government) to continue the effort of developing a comprehensive plan specific to Western Tidewater.

People who were not able to attend the Forum can still volunteer to be a part of one of the work groups by contacting the Foundation at 757-539-8810. The first meeting will be held April 8 to discuss the next steps.

Gina Pitrone is the executive director of the Obici Healthcare Foundation. You can learn more about the Foundation at