Group Examining Ways to Encourage Healthy Behavior; Health Care Professionals Discuss Steps on How to Attack Obesity Epidemic

Article excerpt

Byline: TIMOTHY J. GIBBONS, The Times-Union

As Americans keep gaining weight, the medical community has to examine and adopt innovative ways to help their patients slim down, a crowd of about 250 health care professionals were told at a state summit Wednesday at the Radisson Riverwalk.

Obesity has helped make health care costs skyrocket and leads to a host of disease -- and with more and younger people getting heavier each year, it's a problem that will only get worse, said John Agwunobi, secretary of the Florida Department of Health, which organized the Jacksonville summit.

"We need to take steps now," Agwunobi said. "I have watched the obesity epidemic as it has rolled in onto our shores. But the big wave hasn't hit our shores yet."

Wednesday's summit was the state's third such meeting about obesity. The first, held in Orlando, focused on helping businesses deal with obesity, while another one, in Tallahassee, brought the issue before educators. The summits grew out of the work done by the Governor's Task Force on the Obesity Epidemic, a group created by Jeb Bush to study obesity and look for ways to prevent it.

The group's finding, in a nutshell: Eat less and exercise more.

The goal of the summit: Come up with ways to encourage that sort of behavior in Florida residents.

"One of the big issues is we have unhealthy lifestyles," said Richard Robleto, deputy commissioner in the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. "If we could incentivize better behavior, high costs would go down."

The Jacksonville summit featured representatives from the Centers for Disease Control, insurance companies, hospitals and other organizations, with each presenting programs they've worked on that have led patients to better control their weight.

A Humana executive, for example, talked about the company's Silver Sneakers program, which focuses on Medicare recipients. …