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Obesity Summit: The South Needs a Healthy Makeover

PHOTO: Officials from Arkansas and 15 other southern states are meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, at the annual Southern Obesity Summit through Tuesday. The forum brings together community, government and health care leaders from around the south. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith.
PHOTO: Officials from Arkansas and 15 other southern states are meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, at the annual Southern Obesity Summit through Tuesday. The forum brings together community, government and health care leaders from around the south. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith.
October 7, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - With obesity considered a public health crisis by most experts, community, government and health care leaders from Arkansas and 15 other southern states are gathered in Louisville, Kentucky, to focus on solutions at the Southern Obesity Summit.

Carolyn Dennis, a registered dietitian with Shaping Kentucky's Future Collaborative, is the summit co-host. She says one of the goals of the conference is to discuss and decide upon changes that can be made to help southerners become healthier.

"There are seven main pillars of policy change they're trying to get folks across these 16 southern states to work on," she says.

Some of those pillars include physical activity, nutrition policies in schools, and health education in early childhood. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 14 percent of Arkansas children and teens are obese, and 30 percent of adults in Arkansas are obese.

Dennis says there are implications beyond the health concerns of obesity, such as absenteeism from the workplace - which she contends costs employers billions of dollars nationwide.

"The financial implications from that are enormous, so that has really drawn business in to being concerned about the issue of obesity," she says.

Considered the largest regional obesity-prevention event in the United States, the Southern Obesity Summit got underway on Sunday and concludes Tuesday.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - AR