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New England Coalition for Health Promotion & Disease Prevention

National Obesity Action Forum Designates
NECON Strategic Plan as Model for Nation

The NECON/Harvard School of Public Health Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Overweight and Obesity in New England was chosen as a model for the nation at the National Obesity Action Forum on June 5-6, 2006, in Bethesda, Maryland.  The event was sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health, Division of Nutrition Research Coordination; and the Office of Public Health and Science, Regions I-X.

U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona and the Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral John O. Agwunobi were two of the featured speakers.  To address the problem of overweight and obesity in our nation, the two-day meeting brought together federal, state, and local public health officials; leaders of community organizations and advocacy groups; nutrition and physical fitness experts; health care providers; school and food industry representatives; and interested consumers.  Dr. David Katz of the Yale Prevention Center and Chair Bertram A. Yaffe represented NECON.

The following is the conference description of The Plan.


REGIONAL OBESITY CONFERENCE SUMMARY
US Department of Health and Human Services
Office of the Regional Health Administrator (ORHA)
Region I (New England states)

WHO

US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS), Region I (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont)
Regional Health Administrator (RHA): CAPT Michael R. Milner, PA-C, DHSc(c)
617-565-4999; michael.milner@hhs.gov

   

WHAT

Region I US DHHS sponsored, in collaboration with the New England Coalition for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NECON) and the New England Governors' Conference (NEGC), a one-day conference on June 11, 2004 "Preventing & Controlling Obesity in New England: A Strategic Plan"  in Woodstock, VT.

   

BACKGROUND/
PURPOSE

US DHHS Region I ORHA, NECON, the HSPH and the New England Governors' Conference (NEGC) began a process in 2002 to develop a regional strategic plan on obesity, overweight, healthy weight, nutrition and physical activity.  This evidence-based plan was developed with the leadership of Walter Willett, M.D., HSPH Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Professor of Epidemiology, and represents the collaboration of over 100 members who worked in task forces associated with the various chapters of the plan.  Participants included members of the ORHA staff, State Health Department staff, community-based organizations, the three New England chapters of the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the American Cancer Society, academics from New England's public health and medical schools, as well as advocates, consumers, media experts, policymakers and others.

The Plan was presented first in draft form in February 2003, at a US DHHS ORHA-sponsored event (with support from the National Institutes of Health/NIDDK).  This forum allowed for initial discussion of the draft plan among all the participants listed above, as well as state legislators.  The Plan was also submitted for review to the NEGC.  Committees then met again through mid-2004 to revise the Plan's content.

US DHHS Region I, NECON and NEGC then hosted the June 11, 2004 event referenced above to provide a forum for final discussion of the revised Plan.  Over 225 policymakers, health researchers, insurers, voluntary sector, advocates, academics, health professionals and others attended to fine-tune and integrate the Plan's recommendations.

After a period of web-based public comment on the Plan following the June 2004 conference, the final New England Strategic Plan, integrating suggestions and changes, was published in October 2005.

   

FOLLOW-UP

Since the conclusion of the regional conference in June 2004, many New England organizations have worked on this critical public health issue in a wide variety of ways.  Listed below are several illustrations of how this work has continued, using as a framework the commitment made at the June 2004 conference by the communities, states and regional federal partners to implement parts of the Strategic Plan and similar components of each of the New England states' individual, but analogous, state obesity/physical activity plans:

  • All New England states developed state-based obesity/physical activity plans in coordination with the regional plan.
     
  • NECON received additional funding from Sanofi-Aventis Corporation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) following the June 2004 conference to assist with regional implementation of the New England plan.
     
  • A key strategy agreed on by the states, NECON and the US DHHS ORHA was to sponsor Health Action Forums, events which are designed to discuss, shape and enhance local initiatives on healthy weight.  Forums have thus far been held in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.NECON, in collaboration with the HSPH, the state health departments and the US DHHS ORHA, is working on a sustained implementation plan which focuses on surveillance, education and transference of evidence-based research into practice/policy.  One product of this effort will be a biennial Trends Report for New England.  This report will follow up to 10 indicators in the healthy weight/nutrition/physical activity areas which, if addressed, will result in significant behavior, policy and practice change.  These Trend Reports will be used by states, legislators, governors and academics as a baseline set of tracked data over time, so that a common data set can be understood and acted upon across the New England region.
     
  • In order to address the recommendations in the report focusing on health professionals' role in obesity/nutrition/physical activity issues, NECON is working with David Katz, M.D. of the Yale Prevention Center to create a web-based Obesity Prevention and Control Clearinghouse which will maintain state-of-the-art self-study CME programs for clinicians in weight/nutrition/physical activity counseling.  US DHHS ORHA and other partners will promote and support this effort to engage with the clinical community on an ongoing basis.
     
  • In addition, the New England states, through both governmental and community-based initiatives/entities, have generated a tremendous amount of activity on weight/nutrition and physical activity since June 2004.  It would be unwieldy to summarize all of it here; a single example of each state's activities is listed below, but does not at all fully represent the richness of the region's many multi-sector approaches to addressing this issue.

  • Connecticut: The state health department implemented CONNECTIFIT, a workplace wellness program for health department employees.
     
  • Maine: Several school-based health policy initiatives were implemented in 2005 focusing on ridding schools of soda/candy vending machines and junk food, unless a waiver is granted by a local school board in limited circumstances.
     
  • Massachusetts: The state health department collaborated with Tufts University on the development of a database of physical activity resources on a community-by-community basis.  In FY 2006, this database will be made into a searchable website housed on the statewide Partnership for a Health Weight website.
     
  • New Hampshire: KidPower! Walk and Wheel Safely, a school based program designed to increase child and family physical activity using a 2-prong approach of pedometer/activity log and walking/cycling, was initiated; nearly 2000 children participated in the 2004-2005 school year, with data not yet available for this school year.
     
  • Rhode Island: The Road to Health Coalition, a collaboration between the Rhode Island Health Department and fifteen hospitals in Rhode Island, focuses on providing consumers/patients with fast food decision prompts, stairway decision prompts and healthy grocery shopping lists which contain essential information for improving nutrition by making informed choices.
     
  • Vermont: The state health department, in collaboration with the University of Vermont's Center for Rural Studies, conducted a statewide survey to inventory the built environment for all 244 cities and towns in Vermont (built environment is a focus of the Regional Plan).  The Vermont Agency for Transportation and the Vermont Association of Planning and Development Agencies participated, and as of September 2005, over 85% of towns had responded.   The UVM Center for Rural Studies has issued a report of the findings, which will be used for obesity prevention planning at the state and community level.

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