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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, June 11, 2012, 6:50 am

June 27 forum to tackle obesity issue as a community challenge

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    Brad Bollinger, Business Journal Editor in ChiefThe HBO series “The Weight of the Nation” arrives at a key moment in episode four. The CEO of a 1,000-employee construction company was alarmed by rising annual increases in health premiums for his employees. The more he looked into why, the more it became apparent a root cause was that far too many of his employees were carrying unhealthy extra pounds — some dangerously so.

    For instance, he found 55 percent of his workforce weighed 200 pounds or more, 20 percent over 250. He was not just concerned about his employees’ health, but about his company’s ability to actually function.

    Seeing nothing good coming out of inaction, the CEO committed to a full health assessment and individual counseling across his workforce. The results were heartening and at times dramatic. One worker shows an interviewer the half-dozen notches on his belt he no longer needs. Another talks about changing his fast-food habits.

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    The message: Companies are a key component in addressing a national obesity epidemic. But companies alone cannot do all that is needed to reverse a trend that is ruining lives and costing tens of billions of dollars — and shows no signs of letting up.

    It will take everyone to meet the challenge, which is the underlying message of the North Bay Premiere showing of “The Weight of the Nation” on June 27 from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Sheraton Petaluma. The one-hour showing of the HBO program, followed by a panel discussion of local experts, is a collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and the Business Journal along with North Bay Leadership Council, County of Sonoma and Marin Health & Human Services. The event is free and open to the community.

    So, yes, employers play an important role in meeting the challenge of obesity. But to win will require rethinking city planning so that people are encouraged to walk or bike rather than drive. It will require communities to understand that “food deserts” do exist in neighborhoods in their cities, which means children and adults lack access to healthy foods. It will require a revolutionary change in the food supply away from industrial corn and sugar-based foods to something more local, especially fruits and vegetables.

    The good news is that the North Bay is uniquely positioned to meet the challenge of obesity. The region has a strong commitment to farm markets, organic foods and is home to many food growers and world class producers. The climate and terrain provide ample opportunities for hiking, biking and other outdoor activities.

    In other words, many of the assets are in place. But the job is far from done.

    Brad Bollinger is the Business Journal’s editor and associate publisher. He can be reached at 707-521-4251 OR bbollinger@busjrnl.com. To register for the June 27 event, go to NorthBayBusinessJournal.com or call 707-521-5264.

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