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Fruit Heights physician/lawmaker champions anti-obesity effort

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(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, speaks on the floor of the Utah House of Representatives. He is a physician and penned a resolution about decreasing obesity in Utah.

By Tyson Phillips

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 07 2013 03:13PM
Updated Mar 7, 2013 03:13PM

Thanks to a Davis County doctor in the House, obesity now will be officially recognized by the state of Utah as a significant public health and economic issue.

HCR2 was overwhelmingly approved in the Legislature. It urges support of policies that address the state’s obesity problem — with a goal of improving the health and lifestyles of adults and children by promoting and encouraging healthy weight.

The chief sponsor of the resolution is Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, who seeks heightened public awareness of the growing health problem.

"The fact is that obesity is the second leading preventable cause of disease and premature death, second only to tobacco use. It’s a very serious issue, one that is linked to lower life expectancy and higher medical costs," said the lawmaker and physician.

Obesity is a growing problem in the United States. (A person is considered obese if their Body Mass Index — BMI — is 30 or greater.)

An estimated 35 percent of adults in the nation are deemed obese according to a 2012 report by the Centers for Disease Control. The same report goes on to state that the medical costs of obesity in 1998 were estimated to be as high as $78.5 billion. Ten years later, it nearly doubled to $147 billion, with roughly half financed by Medicare and Medicaid.

The state of Utah has one of the lowest rates of obesity in the country, ranking 45th, with just more than 24 percent of residents considered obese.

Barlow wants to push it even further down the rankings, and he can speak with authority on the subject. He is a board-certified head and neck surgeon and a board member and past president of the Utah Medical Association.

"This is something that many of my Utah medical colleagues have been working on for a long time. It’s a huge step in the right direction," he said.

A workgroup from the UMA performed the research behind the facts that Barlow used in the resolution. One of the researchers was Rebecca Fronberg, the manager of the Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Program at the Utah Department of Health.

When asked what contributed to the obesity epidemic in the United States, Fronberg identified food and lifestyle.

"We started spending more time in front of the television, computers and now our smartphones," she said. "Ways to get to places got easier. We stopped moving around."

Fronberg went on to talk about ways to help Utahns lose weight. She suggested walking as the easiest way to start since nearly everyone can do it right away.

Along with Barlow, Fronberg wants to move the needle on obesity. And she believes that the resolution will help.

"Even though our national obesity ranking is low, the fact is we do have an issue," Fronberg said. "This legislation is a great step in the right direction. It supports the goals and objectives of the Utah Nutrition and Physical Activity Plan 2010-2020, which will hopefully lead to funding for more plans."

While HCR2 doesn’t have any likely fiscal costs, it does encourage the Legislature and the governor to urge communities, schools, employers and health care communities to implement policies to increase access to healthy food and physical activity.

It also asks the state to support initiatives that educate Utahns about solutions to the obesity epidemic while also considering the impact of existing and pending laws and rules on obesity risk and prevention.

The resolution was passed in the House by a vote of 55 to 16, and it was unanimously approved in the Senate.

Rep. Keith Grover, R-Provo, was one of the few representatives who opposed the resolution.

"It’s another potential mandate. I vote on principleand I believe people should govern themselves rather than have the state dictate their lives," he said.

Barlow said he wasn’t surprised that some voted against HCR2 for the simple reason that "some people don’t like resolutions."

closeup@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribDavis

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