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Franklin obesity rate a concern

April 26, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

The percentage of Franklin County residents and their neighbors in Fulton and Adams counties who are overweight or obese is significantly higher than that of residents in most other Pennsylvania counties, according to the results of a five-year study that ended in 2002.

The study also found a significantly higher percentage of residents in the three counties who participated in the study engage in no physical activity and don't eat many fruits and vegetables.

The report was part of a Friday morning forum called Healthier Communities Through Active Living. It was sponsored by the Healthy Communities Partnership of Greater Franklin County Inc., the Franklin County Recreation and Open Space Advisory Committee and Summit Health.

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About 80 people representing local and county governments, the health care industry, health and human service agencies, recreation departments, the YMCA and faith-based groups attended the seminar at the Kauffman Ruritan Center in Kauffman Station north of Greencastle.

"Franklin County faces a critical health issue that can no longer be ignored," said Jan Crudden, executive director of the Healthy Communities Partnership. "Increasing rates of obesity and being overweight, decreases in physical activity and questionable eating habits are impacting the health of our people with consequences we will face for years."

According to the National Institutes of Health, a body mass index value of 25 or more defines someone who is overweight. An obese person's body mass index is 30 or more.

The state's study showed that 61 percent of the 380 persons polled in the three-county area were overweight, 25 percent were obese, nearly 30 percent engage in no physical activity and nearly 78 percent don't eat more than five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

"We see the end result of that," said Norman Epstein, president and CEO of Summit Health, owner of Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals.

Although physicians try, health care providers cannot control what people do, Epstein said.

"A new steakhouse opens and the parking lot is full," he said, pointing to the fact that obesity can lead to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. "The evidence is all there. We see it continuously."

Epstein said the problems will be worse in the next decade as money becomes more limited for health care, costs go up and more people will need the services.

"There's a time bomb down the road," he said.

One reason for Franklin County's high obesity rate is changing lifestyles created by a move off the farm, Crudden said.

"A lot of us are still eating like we are still on the farm, but we're not using up the same kind of energy anymore," she said.

It's incumbent on local governments to make facilities available where people can get out and walk, said Gerald Zeigler, zoning enforcement officer for Washington Township and supervisor of Pine Hill, the township's park off Pa. 16. The park has three miles of hiking trails with more being planned, he said.

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