Nutrition, Physical Activity & Obesity Program

Connecticut Department of Public Health
Community, Family Health and Prevention Section
410 Capitol Avenue
P.O. Box 340308, MS #11-HLS
Hartford, CT 06134-0308
Phone:  (860) 509-8251
Fax:  (860) 509-7854

 

Mission Statement:  The Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity (NPAO) Program is committed to providing quality education and supporting implementation of public health policies, system’s, and environmental change (PSE) strategies aimed at promoting healthy eating and active living for Connecticut residents of all ages, with an emphasis on addressing health disparities.   

Eating healthy and being physically active can help you maintain a healthy body weight and prevent the development of chronic diseases. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2nd Edition recommendations summarize the latest science and are outlined below.


Eat Healthfully

  • Follow a healthy eating plan throughout the lifespan.  It is never too early or too late to start eating healthfully! The core components of a healthy eating pattern include a variety of foods from the food groups - fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and protein foods. A healthy eating pattern may also include oils, such as vegetable oil or the oils found in nuts, seeds, and seafood.  For more information and tips on following a healthy eating pattern, visit MyPlate.gov
  • Customize your healthy eating pattern to fit your preferences and budget. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is the framework for healthy eating, but you can chose what you like within the food groups!
  • Focus on nutrient-dense foods and beverages and stay within calorie limits.  Nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
  • Limit foods and beverages that are high in added sugars, saturated fat, and salt (sodium), and limit alcohol.  A healthy dietary pattern doesn’t have much room for extra added sugars, saturated fat, or sodium—or for alcoholic beverages.  A small amount of added sugar, salt, or saturated fat may help you consume healthy foods and beverages but should be limited. Adults of legal drinking age who chose to drink should limit alcoholic beverages to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women. Some adults, like pregnant women should not drink alcohol at all.

Be Physically Active

  • Preschool-aged children should be active throughout the day to enhance growth and development.  Active play should include a variety of light, moderate, or vigorous intensity for at least 3 hours per day.
  • School-aged children and adolescents (aged 6-17) need at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity daily. Most activity can be aerobic, like walking, running, or anything that makes their heart beat faster. They also need muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities such as climbing on playground equipment, playing basketball, and jumping rope.
  • Adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity which should include muscle-strengthening exercises like weight-lifting 2 or more days a week.

Want to learn more? Not sure if it is moderate or vigorous activity? Visit Move Your Way for more information and tips on meeting the physical activity guidelines!

 

Obesity

Obesity is a common, serious, and costly public health problem. More than forty percent of U.S. adults (42.5%) aged 20 and over are obese.  In addition, 21.1% of adolescents aged 12-19, 20.3% of children aged 6-11, and 13.4% of children aged 2-5 years are obese.  Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used as a screening tool for obesity.  For adults over 20 years old:

BMI

Weight Status

Below 18.5

Underweight

18.5-24.9

Healthy Weight

25.0-29.9

Overweight

30 and over

Obese

Child obesity is measured a little differently; a child's weight status is determined using an age- and sex-specific percentile for BMI rather than the BMI categories used for adults.  Children that are at or above the 95th percentile are considered obese whereas children at the 85th percentile up to the 95th percentile are considered overweight.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a BMI calculator available for adults and for children.

According to the CDC, people who have obesity are at increased risk for many diseases and health conditions, including the following:

  • All-causes of death (mortality)
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)
  • High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides (Dyslipidemia)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
  • Sleep apnea and breathing problems
  • Chronic inflammation and increased oxidative stress
  • Some cancers (endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver)
  • Low quality of life
  • Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders
  • Body pain and difficulty with physical functioning

It is important to note that some people may be at risk for chronic diseases even if their BMI falls in the healthy weight range. Individuals should speak with a healthcare provider if they have concerns about their weight or health status.

There is no single or simple solution to the obesity epidemic. It’s a complex problem which requires a multifaceted approach. Policy makers, state and local organizations, business and community leaders, school, child care and healthcare professionals, and individuals must work together to create an environment that supports healthy lifestyles. 

There are several ways in which state and local organizations can create a supportive environment to promote healthy eating and being physically active.  Community efforts must focus on supporting healthy eating and active living in a variety of settings.  The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight isn't short-term dietary changes; it's about a lifestyle that includes healthy eating and regular physical activity.

 
Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and the Obesity Epidemic:
 
What Are Sugar-Sweetened Beverages? 
Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are drinks that are sweetened with one or more added sugars.  Added sugar goes by many names including raw sugar, honey, brown sugar, fruit juice concentrate, corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, molasses, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, and sucrose. 

Drinks that contain added sugars include regular soda (not the diet variety), fruit drinks such as lemonade and fruit punch (not 100% juice), sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened water drinks, and coffee and tea beverages with added sugars.  You can tell if your beverage has added sugars by reading the ingredient list located on the product’s label. 
 
How are SSBs Related to Obesity? 
SSBs are major sources of added sugars in the American diet. The calories provided by SSBs are “empty”, meaning they have little to no nutritional value.  Added sugars only add calories to a person’s diet and should be limited as much as possible to prevent weight gain.  Sugary drinks account for 47% of all added sugars consumed by Americans.  Making the switch to drinks with no added sugars, especially water, is a good way to achieve a healthy body weight.

According to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars account on average for almost 270 calories—or more than 13 percent of total calories—per day in the U.S. population.  The major sources of added sugars in typical U.S. diets are sugar-sweetened beverages, desserts and sweet snacks, sweetened coffee and tea, and candy.  These food categories make up more than half of the intake of all added sugars while contributing very little to food group recommendations.

People who drink SSBs tend not to feel as full as if they had eaten the same calories from solid food. A typical 20-ounce soda contains 15 to 18 teaspoons of sugar and about 240-290 calories.  This means that drinking one additional 20-ounce soda each day over the course of one year could result in a 25 pound weight gain if you do not eat less in other areas to make up for the difference. 

How can I make healthier beverage choices? 
Don’t just eat healthy, drink healthy, too!  Soda, sports drinks, energy drinks, and juice drinks are filled with added sugars.  Water should be the primary beverage of adults and children alike.  See the below tips to help you enjoy healthier beverages. 

  • When you do opt for a sugary drink pick the small size or only drink part of the container. For instance, some beverage companies are now selling 8-ounce cans and bottles of soda, which contain about 100 calories.
  • Make water more exciting by adding slices of lemon, lime, cucumber, watermelon, berries, mint or other herbs.  With so many fruits, vegetables, and herbs to choose from, the flavor possibilities are endless.
  • Try sparkling water or seltzer.  Be sure to read the ingredients to make sure no sugar is added!
  • Carry a water bottle and refill it throughout the day for a quick, easy, and cheap thirst quencher.
  • Keep the fridge stocked with jugs of water for a cool, refreshing drink.
  • Serve water with meals instead of sugary drinks and drink water when out at restaurants.
  • Be a role model for your friends and family by choosing healthy, low-calorie beverages.

Remember most SSBs (e.g., soda, sports drinks) do not contribute to meeting food group goals and often contain a high number of calories.

For more information:  
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Rethink Your Drink
American Heart Association: Rethink Your Drink; Reducing Sugary Drinks in Your Diet
Center for Science in the Public Interest: Liquid Candy: How Soft Drinks are Harming America’s Health

References: 

  1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption
  3. UCONN Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Sugary Drink F.A.C.T.S.
  4. World Health Organization, e-Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions (eLENA)
  5. Harvard School of Public Health, Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet
  6. American Heart Association, Added Sugars 


Connecticut Data:
 
For the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Connecticut State Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Profile, visit the CDC Connecticut Data Overview site for more information.
 
For Connecticut Childhood Obesity data visit the Connecticut Childhood Obesity Report (August 2018) for more information.

 

The NPAO Program initiatives and programs are supported by a variety of federal funding:

 
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Education Program (SNAP Ed)
The Department of Social Services operates the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and allocates funding for the nutrition education component, SNAP-Ed.  SNAP-Ed provides nutrition education, in accordance with the National Dietary Guidelines, to increase fruit and vegetable consumption and physical activity among preschool children in School Readiness and Head Start Programs and eligible SNAP-Ed adults. 

State Physical Activity and Nutrition Program
In 2018, the NPAO Program was awarded funding from the CDC for Cooperative Agreement DP18-1807, State Physical Activity and Nutrition Program (SPAN). SPAN funding supports state investments to improve nutrition and increase physical activity opportunities statewide. We are working in the following strategy areas.


Increasing Breastfeeding Supports

Breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for most infants and we are working to ensure all Connecticut families have the support they need to start, and continue, breastfeeding.  This includes promoting the adoption of evidence-based maternity care practices in birthing facilities, ensuring moms have access to people who can help them with breastfeeding challenges, ensuring that child care sites, workplaces, and other community sites are supportive of breastfeeding and breastmilk expression.  We are also spreading the message, “Breastfeeding: It’s Worth It!” to promote the importance of breastfeeding.  

Increasing Access to Healthier Beverages and Foods
Making healthy choices easy and accessible in places where people live, work, play and pray is important to support healthy eating.  We are partnering with community sites and worksites throughout the state to implement food service guidelines.  The guidelines will set nutrition standards for foods and beverages served in cafeterias, snack bars, vending machines, catered meetings, and other venues to ensure healthy options are available, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lower sodium foods, and plain water.   

Improving Nutrition and Physical Activity Policies and Practices in Child Care
Most young children spend time in care outside of their home, and we are working to ensure child care sites create an environment that promotes healthy eating and increased physical activity among young children.  This includes serving healthier meals and snacks, teaching nutrition education lessons, making fluoridated drinking water available, increasing indoor and outdoor physical activity, and more.  We offer quality improvement and professional development opportunities for child care professionals, work with state partners to encourage the inclusion of nutrition and physical activity standards in state systems, and bring together partners to identify collaboration opportunities.

Connecting Everyday Places to Increase Safe and Accessible Physical Activity Opportunities
Physical activity is an important part of being healthy.  We are working with state and local partners to connect everyday destinations to create activity-friendly routes in Connecticut.   This may include updating the street’s design to make it safer, changing land use policies, or creating trails.  Activity-friendly routes connected to everyday destinations can make it safe and convenient for people of all abilities to walk, run, bike, skate, or use wheelchairs and help people meet the daily physical activity recommendations.

As an extension of SPAN, the NPAO Program has been awarded funding from the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors to promote healthy living and reduce social isolation during the COVID pandemic through the Building Resilient Inclusive Communities (BRIC) Program. We will work with partners to address health equity and COVID recovery in Bridgeport, Hartford, and New Haven.
 
Farm to School Grant 
In July 2020, the NPAO Program was awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the Farm to School Grant Program (FTS Grant).  With this funding, we plan to expand on our work in child care sites to include Farm to Early Care and Education (Farm to ECE).  Quality Farm to ECE programs include gardening, agricultural education and experiential learning, and purchasing local produce for use in meals, snacks, and lessons. The FTS Grant not only allows us to provide mini-grants to child care sites to implement Farm to ECE but is helping us coordinate better with key statewide partners, including the Connecticut Farm to School Collaborative and UConn Extension, the organization in charge of the Put Local on Your Tray website, a critical Farm to School and Farm to ECE resource.
 
Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant (PHHSBG)

Grant initiatives focus on community-wide environmental and policy change approaches to reducing risk factors for chronic diseases.  Local health departments and community partners implement sustainable systems, policy or environmental changes related to chronic disease prevention and health disparities in one of the following areas: tobacco-free living, healthy eating, and active living.  Initiatives are evidence-based and draw upon best practice research.  Activities funded include community and school gardens, establishing walking and bike trails, and addressing tobacco use/secondhand smoke.