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SANTA ROSA -- In an effort to combat an increasing public health risk, Kaiser Permanente has given a $1 million grant to a Sonoma County nonprofit to help curb obesity in the Kawana Springs and Roseland neighborhoods of Santa Rosa.

The grant, given to The Community Activity and Nutrition Coalition of Sonoma County, also known as Can-C, is part of Kaiser's new three-year, $10 million Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zones initiative across Northern California. The coalition is an alliance of individuals, professionals and community-based organizations focused on improving healthful eating and active living.

The HEAL Zones are designed to help make healthful choices accessible to more people in underserved communities -- and in turn to prevent diseases such as diabetes and hypertension that often result from obesity. Such health risks often lead to increased health care costs for all residents, according to health experts.

"We are thrilled to receive this funding from Kaiser Permanente because it will allow us to work with residents to make changes that reflect the specific needs of our community," said Anthony Taylor, health program manager with the County of Sonoma Department of Health Services, the coordinating agency for the grant. The partnership, he said,  "is invaluable in the campaign to fight chronic diseases associated with overweight and obesity here in Sonoma County."

Obesity has serious economic impact, in addition to the long-term health effects: in Sonoma County, it accounts for more than $436 million in lost productivity and health care costs, according to a study by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. Additionally, nearly $115 million is spent on health care costs as a result of an overweight and obese population. Another $85 million worth of lost productivity is attributable to obesity.

In addition to Santa Rosa,  six other Northern California communities received $1 million HEAL Zones grants: Bayview-Hunters Point in San Francisco, Madera in Fresno, Modesto, Monument in Concord, Richmond and South Sacramento

Kaiser will also dedicate an additional $3 million to technical and evaluation support as well as other Northern California place-based community investments over the next three years.

"In the first five years of the HEAL work, we saw increased physical activity, greater availability of healthy food in corner stores, improvement of our local parks and creation of safe walkways," said Yvette Radford, Kaiser's regional vice president of external and community affairs. "We also learned that going forward, we could make a greater impact by concentrating our efforts in smaller, more targeted areas. For Kaiser Permanente, the HEAL Zones are much more than just funding. They are an extension of the work in our medical centers, and our commitment to helping create healthy individuals and healthy communities."

Yet another alarming statistic about the state's  obesity problem: by 2023, Californians will have 4.2 million avoidable chronic diseases, for which the treatment will cost $18.9 billion, with lost productivity costs pegged at $98 billion, according to a report by the Milken Institute.

The HEAL Zones will focus on four specific areas over the next three year. They include: decreasing caloric intake, specifically sugar-sweetened drinks; increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables; increased physical activity in community settings, such as parks; and increased physical activity at schools and workplaces.

About 60 percent of adults and 29 percent of teens are obese or overweight in Sonoma County, according to the California Health Interview Survey.  And 38 percent of low income children, ages 2-11, and 44 percent of teens, ages 12-19, are overweight or obese.

"As it stands now the next generation of children will have less of a chance for a healthy life due to obesity," said Kirk Pappas, physician-in-chief for Kaiser Medical Center of Santa Rosa. "Locally, this important programs gives children the opportunity to eat healthy, more their bodied and live longer."

The project is supported by Kaiser Permanente through a fund the Oakland-based HMO established at the East Bay Community Foundation.