State weight-loss program urges 'recess' in workplace
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Jan 17, 2013 | 5420 views |  0 comments | 78 78 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MONTGOMERY — Alabama has a new strategy in the fight against obesity, and it looks a lot like the Electric Slide.

Several office workers from the Alabama Department of Public Health gathered in front of television cameras Thursday to demonstrate a group dance — vaguely resembling the 1970s dance craze — that workers could do in the office to stay in shape.

The dance was part of this year's launch of Scale Back Alabama, a state program that challenges Alabama residents to lose weight.

Every January, the state recruits volunteers to team up in groups of four, asks them to weigh in and challenges them to commit to losing 10 pounds each over 10 weeks.

The contest, now in its seventh year, has become the most visible part of the state's campaign against obesity. Alabama ranks fourth nationwide in obesity, state health officials say.

"Sixty-six percent of Alabamians are overweight or obese," said State Health Officer Don Williamson, during the launch event that was webcast from the Health Department offices in Montgomery. The problem, he said, is adding to the cost of state's health system.

This year, Scale Back organizers are urging employers to give their workers "recess" — 10-minute breaks to do physical exercise in the office. Organizers said people have become more aware of the problem of portion control, but haven't taken up the other half of weight loss — physical exercise.

"We're trying to encourage people to eat less and move more," said Rosemary Blackmon, spokeswoman for the Alabama Hospital Association and one of Scale Back's organizers.

Blackmon said that over the seven years of the contest, Alabamians have lost more than 900,000 pounds. But while contest organizers have kept track of the participants and the pounds from year to year, it's harder to measure whether the contest leads to long-term changes in participants' health habits.

Blackmon said nearly half of participants in any given year had done Scale Back before. She said it was hard to tell whether that was good or bad news.

"We see it as both," she said, noting that the event coincides with the new year, when most people are trying to shed holiday pounds.

Organizers said that while the recommended 30 minutes of daily exercise may sound daunting, it's not so bad if you break it up into 10-minute intervals — something that could be done in the office, organizers said.

Health officials demonstrated the principle by calling in a group of office workers to do the short, coordinated dance routine.

It didn't feel weird at all, said Julia Sosa, deputy director of the state's Office of Minority Health, who was among the dancers. She and her co-workers practiced a couple of times before the event, she said, and were soon comfortable with the routine.

"It's good to get up from your desk and dance," she said.

Anniston may soon launch its own anti-obesity initiative. Mayor Vaughn Stewart said late last year that the city would launch a task force to look for ways to address obesity in the city. Stewart said Thursday that the task force — likely to be called the Healthy Living Task Force — would probably be appointed in March or later. He said he wanted to incorporate the task force into the overall strategic planning process, which is still getting underway.

Stewart didn't name potential appointees, but said he has been talking to potential task force members.

"I've already heard from some interested individuals," he said.

The first weigh-in for Scale Back is Saturday. To sign up or to see video of the kickoff event, go to www.scalebackalabama.com

Capitol & Statewide Reporter: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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