FOR RELEASE: 8/8/2011Contact: John Cappiello, (203) 384-3637

Coalition to Eliminate Obesity convenes task forces

The Coalition to Eliminate Obesity in Bridgeport and Stratford has taken a major step forward with the formation of three task forces to help residents of the two communities embrace healthier lifestyle choices. The task forces, which began their work during a July 29 community meeting at the Park Avenue United Congregational Church in Bridgeport, will focus on developing ways to promote healthy eating and physical activity and provide necessary support systems.

“We are here to establish a shared understanding of the problem and build a commitment to address obesity issues in Bridgeport and Stratford through community-wide collaboration,” said Bridgeport Hospital Senior Vice President, Planning and Marketing Lyn Salsgiver, one of the project leaders.

The Coalition consists of representatives of more than a dozen municipal and state agencies, community organizations and healthcare providers, including Bridgeport Hospital, which spearheaded the launch of the initiative in 2010 with the Bridgeport Primary Care Action Group. Grant funding has been provided by the United Way of Coastal Fairfield County and additional funding will be sought as the effort moves forward.

“This initiative to address the underlying causes of obesity in our local communities could pay dividends for generations to come by paving the way for healthier lifestyles,” said Bill Hoey, Chair of the Bridgeport Primary Care Action Group and Vice President of Mission Services for St. Vincent’s Medical Center, which is also a member of the Coalition.

Other members of the Coalition include the AmeriCares Free Clinic of Bridgeport, Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, Bridgeport and Stratford Health Departments, Connecticut Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, Connecticut Department of Social Services, Greater Bridgeport Medical Association, Optimus Health Care, Southwest Area Health Education Center, Southwest Community Health Center and Wholesome Wave, an organization that promotes local farmers’ markets as a source of nutritious foods.

The Coalition is co-chaired by Bridgeport Director of Health and Social Services Kristin duBay Horton and Stratford Director of Health Andrea Boissevain, both of whom were on hand at the July 29 meeting.

According to leading medical research and government health sources, obesity-related illness is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States behind smoking. Obesity is a major risk factor for conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several forms of cancer. As for financial impact, medical costs directly tied to being obese or overweight account for nearly 10 percent of total U.S. health expenditures.

Boissevain provided a snapshot of obesity in the local area. Citing a recent community study, she said that 71 percent of adults in Bridgeport and 58 percent in Stratford are either obese or overweight. The percentage statewide is 60 percent. A separate Bridgeport study underscores the obesity problem among children, indicating that one out of four children in the city is obese.

Horton said that some of the obstacles to eating well and staying fit include economic barriers, cultural differences, the absence of full-service supermarkets, the replacement of sit-down meals with fast foods and a lack of knowledge about preparing healthy meals. She also noted that physical activity may be inadequate in schools and that outdoor play environments may not be considered safe. In addition, she said that outdoor exercise has been replaced by indoor sedentary activities, such as TV- and computer-based activities.

The task forces are scheduled to meet again in September and Coalition leaders are realistic about the degree of commitment needed to combat the local obesity problem.

“The efforts required will be significant,” said project leader Deborah Watson, a grant writer with the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation. “The Coalition’s work will take years, not months. We need to start with ‘low-hanging fruit’—short-term, achievable successes—and build from there.”

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Part of Yale New Haven Health System, Bridgeport Hospital is a 383-bed acute care hospital (plus 42 beds licensed to Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital) serving parts of Fairfield and New Haven counties. The hospital admits more than 18,000 patients and receives more than 240,000 outpatient visits annually.