GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Michigan is the eighth-fattest state in the country.
Obesity is an epidemic that literally grows everyday. Now, the state launched a website that aims to change health habits of Michiganders. The goal is for residents to realize they need to be healthy, and to take it upon themselves to be healthier.
Marquita Herrin is a disabled veteran who hopes to lead by example for her niece. She told 24 Hour News 8 she hopes changing her health habits will lead her niece to get fit, too. She said, so far, it's working. She said when she's sweaty and around her niece, the girl asks what her aunt's been up to.
But despite sharing details with 24 Hour News 8 off-camera, she didn't want to speak on-camera about the issue at the class.
In fact, it seems no one wants to talk about the epidemic.
When 24 Hour News 8 went to a free exercise class at Baxter Community Center, six of the seven participants said they'd leave the class is they were shown on television. The free class was put on by the YMCA, one of several the YMCA puts on in underprivileged areas.
Nearly one-third of all Michigan adults are obese. Michigan's total population is about 10 million. Of those, 6 million have a weight problem, and nearly a million of those are kids.
The state's position is people realize they're overweight, but they don't do anything about it. The state hopes the Michigan Department of Community Health's 4x4 program will help Michiganders take that next step.
"If we follow four healthy behaviors and keep four measures under control, we should all avoid chronic illnesses," said MDCH Director Olga Dazzo.
One of those chronic illnesses is Type 2 diabetes that goes hand-in-hand with a high obesity rate.
More than 10% -- almost 1 million -- Michigan adults have Type 2 diabetes. That means Michigan has the eighth highest number of type two diabetes cases in the country. The number of those afflicted has increased more than 250,000 people in the past decade.
More illnesses mean more sick days and more medical costs.
According to the state, in 2008, Michigan spent about $3.1 billion in obesity-related medical costs. State officials claim unless something changes, that cash outlay will skyrocket to $12.5 billion in 2018.
The four healthy behaviors the MDCH wants Michiganders to embrace are: watch your diet, exercise, get an annual physical and don't smoke.
The state also hopes residents will measure progress by tracking your Body Mass Index, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose level.
The plan itself was introduced by Governor Rick Snyder in 2011, but the website is the new way they hope people will participate.
Dazzo, the leader of the MDCH, is taking her own advice. She's lost 40 pounds so far.
"When I realized that my BMI (Body Mass Index) was 33 and I was obese, I couldn't very well be leading people and be obese. So I have to lead by example."
In order to reach that goal, Dazzo started walking around Lansing on her lunch break. It's something that's caught on, and when 24 Hour News 8 went along on one of them, more than a dozen state workers participated.
Angela Minicuci, a spokesperson for the MDCH, is aware this state-led effort may not work "since this is a plan that's strongly centered around the idea of personal responsibility. At the end of the day, if Michiganders aren't ready to make that step, we can't change their lives for them."
But the state has to try something, Dazzo said.
"It's a crisis. We are hoping people will realize it and we will start a social movement and people will realize, hey, health is important to me. And doing the 4x4 is a very simple tool, easy to remember, that can help me avoid chronic illnesses."
The plan is designed to get people talking about it.
It's important to note, this is a five-year plan the MDCH compared to the anti-smoking campaign. 24 Hour News 8 was told the website is the first step of a larger 4x4 plan that would involve more grassroots efforts in local communities.
According to the MDCH -- the obesity plan (which is what the 4x4 plan is part of) received $2.25 million in the recently adopted budget.
"It's a good number to start with," said Minicuci.
The MDCH is going to continue seeking outside funding for the obesity plan in the form of grants. "If we can get more that would be great," she said.
The goal for next year is to identify five communities to start a sort of pilot program to create community coalitions. The coalitions are basically a way to create a "grassroots" local way to spread the plan out.
The five-year plan dictates there will eventually be 46 coalitions across the state. No plan has been created yet on how the MDCH will decide out what communities will be chosen or when.
On the Net:
4x4 plan details (pdf)
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