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New program aims to improve health in areas with high obesity rates

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Auburn University were awarded a grant of $790,000 to battle obesity and chronic diseases in 14 Alabama counties. 

The Programs to Reduce Obesity in High-Obesity Areas awards are part of a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) initiative to support public health efforts to reduce chronic diseases, promote healthier lifestyles, reduce health disparities and control health care spending. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will administer the grants, which will run for three years, subject to availability of funds. Alabama Extension and Auburn University will ask to have their grants to be refunded in years two and three.

Overall, HHS awarded $4.6 million in new grant awards to six universities. The program funds land grant universities located in states with counties that have more than 40 percent prevalence of adult obesity. Universities will work through existing cooperative extension and outreach services in those counties to improve residents’ access to healthy foods and physical activity opportunities, reduce obesity, and prevent and control diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

“Extension professionals and Auburn faculty will be working with communities to develop programs and practices to combat obesity that are best suited to their needs,” said Dr. Barbara Struempler, the grant’s primary investigator and an Alabama Extension nutrition expert. “This will be an interdisciplinary effort between Extension and Auburn University faculty in nursing and forestry and wildlife sciences.”

Extension professionals will provide expertise in nutrition, and nursing faculty will provide wellness and community health guidance. Forestry and wildlife sciences faculty will lead efforts to improve opportunities for exercise in outdoor settings.

 “Obesity related health problems are incredibly costly,” said Struempler. “For example, let’s look at what would happen if all Alabama residents could reduce their body mass index by 5 percent. That’s 10 pounds for someone 6 feet tall and weighing 200 pounds. It’s estimated that this goal could save the state of Alabama almost $9.5 billion by 2030.”