Nutrition, Physical Activity & Obesity Prevention Program
Connecticut Department of Public Health
Community, Family, and Health Equity 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 Program is committed to supporting education and public health policies, system’s, and environmental change strategies aimed at reducing obesity by promoting healthy eating and active living for Connecticut residents of all ages.
Obesity is a common, serious, and costly public health problem. More than one-third of U.S. adults (34.9% or 78.6 million) and 1 in 6 children and adolescents in the United States are obese. Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used as a screening tool for overweight or obesity. Adults that have a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese and adults with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight.
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 has a BMI calculator available for adults and for children.
Even through obesity is a serious and complicated issue, there are practical steps that you can take to achieve a healthy weight. The steps listed below, from the Mayo Clinic, provide helpful tips that can support a healthy lifestyle to prevent weight gain.
- Exercise regularly. You need to get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week to prevent weight gain. Moderately intense physical activities include fast walking and swimming.
- Follow a healthy eating plan. Focus on low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid saturated fat and limit sweets and alcohol. Eat three regular meals a day with limited snacking. You can still enjoy small amounts of high-fat, high-calorie foods as an infrequent treat. Just be sure to choose foods that promote a healthy weight and good health most of the time.
- Know and avoid the food traps that cause you to eat. Identify situations that trigger out-of-control eating. Try keeping a journal and write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you're feeling and how hungry you are. After a while, you should see patterns emerge. You can plan ahead and develop strategies for handling these types of situations and stay in control of your eating behaviors.
- Monitor your weight regularly. People who weigh themselves at least once a week are more successful in keeping off excess pounds. Monitoring your weight can tell you whether your efforts are working and can help you detect small weight gains before they become big problems.
- Be consistent. Sticking to your healthy-weight plan during the week, on the weekends, and as much as possible on vacation and holidays increases your chances of long-term success.
People who are obese, compared to those with a normal or healthy weight, are at increased risk for many serious 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
- Gallbladder disease
- Osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage and bone within a joint)
- Sleep apnea and breathing problems
- 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
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, childcare 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 living behaviors that prevent obesity. To reverse the obesity epidemic, 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 (SSBs)?
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 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.
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, or watermelon, or drink sparkling water. For ideas, check out these lower in sugar “Spa Water” recipes.
- Add a splash of 100% juice to plain or unsweetened sparkling water for a refreshing, low-calorie drink.
- 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.
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
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption
- UCONN Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, Sugary Drink F.A.C.T.S.
- World Health Organization, e-Library of Evidence for Nutrition Actions
- Harvard School of Public Health, Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet
- American Heart Association, Added Sugars
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.
Physical Activity and Nutrition Guidelines and Resources:
Physical Activity National Guidelines
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PAG) are an essential resource for health professional and policymakers. Based on the latest science, they provide guidance on how children and adults can improve their health through physical activity. Visit the Physical Activity Guidelines (PAG) site for more information.
Physical Activity Information/Resources
- Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities recognizes the importance of physical activity for people of all ages and abilities. It calls on Americans to be more physically active through walking and calls on the nation to better support walking and walkability. Visit the Step it Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities site for more information.
- Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health and fitness, and reduces your risk for many chronic diseases. Visit the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention Physical Activity website for more information.
Nutrition National Guidelines
Every five years, the federal government publishes nutrition guidance to help Americans eat healthier. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans outlines the science behind a healthy eating plan with nutrient targets and recommendations. Visit the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans site for more information.
MyPlate is a healthy eating tool created by the federal government that provides practical information to consumers and educators on putting the science of nutrition into practice. The website provides a variety of resources including meal planning tools, healthy cooking tips, and more. Visit www.choosemyplate.gov for more information.
The Connecticut Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity (NPAO) Program’s Approach to Reduce Obesity: The NPAO Program is comprised of the following programs and/or initiatives which directly or indirectly address obesity:
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 Public Health Actions to Prevent and Control Diabetes, Heart Disease, Obesity and Associated Risk Factors and Promote School Health:
In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded DPH the State Public Health Actions to Prevent and Control Diabetes, Heart Disease, Obesity and Associated Risk Factors and Promote School Health (SHAPE) grant. As part of this work, DPH staff plan, implement, and evaluate obesity prevention initiatives designed to make early care and education centers, schools, and communities healthier. DPH staff work in collaboration with the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) and the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC) on activities that address childhood obesity in early childhood settings and schools.
Specific activities include:
- Promoting the adoption of nutrition standards for foods served and sold on state properties;
- Improving the school nutrition and physical activity environment through the promotion of comprehensive local wellness policies and professional development and support for staff and administrators;
- Promoting the adoption of nutrition standards and physical activity policies and programs in early care and education centers through professional development and support for staff and administrators. For access to the Childhood Obesity Prevention e-Bulletin click here;
- Addressing healthy food access in food deserts through a healthy corner store initiative; and
- Promoting breastfeeding. For more information on DPH’s breastfeeding initiatives, visit our WIC Breastfeeding site.
- Promoting healthy food pantries. For tips on how to donate healthy food, view the Healthy Food Donation List.
Complete Streets to support Biking and Walking Initiatives
In partnership with Bike Walk CT and the Department of Transportation promote Complete Streets with communities to create streets that are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
- Held workshop in April, 2015 addressing urban, suburban and rural bikeway design scenarios and their critical role in complete streets for Seventy-two (72) transportation professionals.
- Created “Share the Road” brochure to raise awareness about the rights and responsibilities of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
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.
In addition, funds are utilized to compliment SHAPE obesity prevention objectives. The Healthy Corner Store Initiative supports small store owners through incentives and education on how to handle, store, price, exhibit, and promote fresh fruits and vegetables, and other healthy items, in their stores. The Early Care and Education (ECE) Initiative supports professional development for administrators and staff on creating a healthy environment for young children which prevents obesity through implementation of nationally recommended policies and best practices.
Coordinated Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Plan:
In April 2014, the Connecticut Department of Public Health completed the coordinated chronic disease prevention and health promotion plan - Live Healthy Connecticut. The plan aims to elevate policy and systems change approaches which are likely to have the broadest and longest lasting impact. Live Healthy Connecticut places a premium on achieving health equity -a core component of the Department’s mission. Finally the plan emphasizes the critical role of partners and acknowledges the goals set forth in this plan can only be achieved through working collaboratively. For more information and to view the plan visit DPH's chronic disease web page.