BRADENTON -- Six out of 10 babies today will be obese or overweight before they graduate unless immediate action alters the course, Florida Surgeon General John Armstrong said Thursday.
He called "the challenge of weight" the No. 1 health threat to the population, leading to sicker and shorter lives, and generating staggering costs to the health care system.
"We have a future that is not what we want," he told a welcoming crowd at the Manatee County Health Department. "We can do something together about it."
Among his recommendations:
inform people about better eating choices;
make healthy choices easier;
improve Florida school breakfasts and lunches with fresh fruits and veg
instill wellness programs in the workplace; and
encourage breastfeeding for babies and mothers.
"We can set the example and raise the bar for healthy living," he said.
Bradenton's meandering park along the Manatee River, called the Riverwalk, represents a positive environment for exercise, Armstrong noted.
"It's a chance to rethink our physical environment," he said.
Florida produces great quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables, and yet there are still "food deserts" where consumers cannot find healthful fare, he said.
During a question-and-answer session, Deputy Manatee County Administrator Karen Windon told Armstrong about a wellness program for county employees. As part of its weight-loss effort, county workers earned financial incentives for small improvements, resulting in a combined loss of 10,500 pounds, she said.
"I think he's right on to target obesity," said Daniel Friedrich III, chief executive officer at Blake Medical Center, after Armstrong's presentation. "If we can attack weight loss, we're on a road to a healthier community. It's one of the keys to better health for our community."
Breastfeeding babies can help solve the problem of obesity, since it burns calories for the mother and provides the best nutrition for her child, said Luz Corcuera, program director for the Healthy Start Coalition of Manatee County.
"We really need to focus on wellness from the very beginning," she said. "Breastfeeding is the key."
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.