To reverse that trend, a new program, called the Cobb2020 Partnership, aims to reduce the obesity rate in Cobb County by 5 percent over the next five years.
“Most of the chronic diseases that are killing and disabling people in this country — heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, to name a few — are highly correlated with weight,” Kennedy said.
The program, which is being led by Kennedy and Cobb Schools spokesman Jay Dillon, is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has already awarded it $1 million with the possibility of receiving another $1.5 million, Kennedy said.
Cobb2020 has conducted a health assessment of county residents, and program leaders are now developing a plan to encourage the community to adopt healthier habits.
“There have been other health initiatives over the years led by the Chamber or other groups, and I’m sure that those were useful, but to engage the number of high-level stakeholders for a very lengthy period of time … is no small task,” Kennedy said.
The Cobb2020 Partnership will focus its health improvement strategies on healthy lifestyles, including healthy weight, physical activity, nutrition and tobacco prevention; and access to health services, including low-cost resources and health screenings.
Chief Deputy Sheriff Lynda Coker, who is on the program’s steering committee, said it will take community buy-in for the program to work.
“If the message meets their demands, they’ll buy in. If it’s just one more thing, they won’t buy in,” Coker said. “We’ve learned a lot in the last 25 to 30 years about the things that can seriously adversely impact your health, and now it’s our job to get that communication out there and hope that the next generation makes some improvements.”
First lady Michelle Obama, who has taken up the cause of childhood obesity prevention, has received some criticism from conservatives on the ground that she is promoting a “nanny” state.
But this is a pocketbook issue, Kennedy said.
“If you don’t care about your own health, do you care about your insurance premiums?” he asked. “Do you care about the fact that none of us can afford what health care’s costing us these days?”
Kennedy, who spends the first hour and a half each morning on a treadmill in his office that he brought from home as he sifts through his email inbox, said he views himself as pretty conservative.
“So I am completely on board with the idea that personal responsibility is important, and frankly, without people taking some personal responsibility for themselves, there’s not a whole lot we can do successfully,” he said. However, “as director of the health department, it’s my job to be looking at people’s health status in the county and give them the best possible advice that I can give them, so what kind of health director am I, or what kind of person am I, if my friend is standing on the railroad track and I see a train coming down the railroad track and I don’t tell them there’s a train coming?”
The program will launch with an invitation-only event at the Strand Theatre on Thursday. Speakers include Attorney General Sam Olens; WSB’s Condace Pressley; Dr. Judith Monroe, CDC deputy director; Dr. Ursula Bauer, director of the National Prevention Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion; and comedian and author Scott Davis.