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Sussex County Health Experts Say Education Is Key to Fighting State's High Obesity Rate

Posted: 09/18/2017 18:24:00 -04:00 Updated:
(Photo: CBS/AP) (Photo: CBS/AP)

SUSSEX COUNTY, Del. - On the heels of a recent report stating Delaware's obesity rates have doubled in recent decades, many local health and wellness professionals say comprehensive changes are needed to keep the first state fit.

"For obesity, we really need lifestyle modification," says Bayhealth Doctor Preeti Gupta. "This is a long term process. So whatever we change, we have to stay with, rather than 'I can cut down my weight in two months and be good.'"

Gupta says education is key as well.

"We definitely need to work more and educate every person to cut down the obesity rates," she says.

Education is one of the Healthier Sussex County Task Force's goals as well. The task force has representatives from all of the county's hospitals. One of them is Beebe's Catherine Murphy. She says they want to provide educational pamphlets to doctors and create a system so patients at risk of becoming obese can be flagged.

"[When] you go to your doctor's office, they weigh you. So with that weight, the nurse or MA could set data," she says. "Then that doctor can start to have that conversation. That's the first most important piece we need--that conversation."

Murphy says there are a number of free resources as well to help people live healthier lifestyles, such as free diabetes screenings and cooking classes. The latter is something she will be doing in partnership with the Sussex County Health Coalition and the University of Delaware. 

"Many people don't know how to cook or know where to start or don't think they have the time to do it so convenience seems to be the easier thing," she says. "They'll be running kids to sports events then home, so instead they are in the car handing [their child] a burger but they don't know the detriment that ends up happening to that child as time goes on."

Holistic Health Coach Trey Bell, the founder of Live Wise, says nutrition and hydration are key, as well as physical fitness.

"Physical activity is paramount, not only for obesity but for the mind too," he says. "A lot of people are stressed out and over stress can lead to weight gain."

Bell says consistent choices, no matter how small, can help people stay fit.

"I always like to tell people if you step foot in the gym that's better than it would have been if you sat at home for the day," he says. "So whether you go in and get a workout or not, just getting in there in general is going to help you out."

The state's Division of Public Health says there is some positive news in recent statistics: childhood obesity in Delaware has decreased and overall activity rates have increased. But Laura Saperstein, program director for the Division of Public Health Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity program, says more must be done. 

“While it is promising that obesity rates have leveled off, obesity is still a public health issue that remains of great concern to us," she says. “We know that excess calorie intake and physical inactivity contribute to obesity, which is associated with some of the leading preventable chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. A comprehensive approach balancing food consumption and physical activity is needed to address obesity as healthy weight still depends on expending more calories than you take in.  Reducing sugar and saturated fat intake, including reducing intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, while also increasing the amount of physical activity you do each day is incredibly important.” 

The state's recommendations for healthy choices are listed below and additional statistics from the Division of Public Health are listed below: 

DPH activities to reduce obesity:

  • Collaborating with the Sussex County Health Promotion Coalition to provide training and technical assistance to improve access to healthier offerings in worksite vending machines and increase access to physical activity;
  • Launched statewide awareness campaign highlighting the link between excess weight and cancer;
  • Communicating the importance of the 5-2-1 Almost None concept: eating at least five servings of fruit or vegetables a day, watching no more than two hours of recreational screen time daily, getting one hour of physical activity each day, and drinking almost no sugar-sweetened drinks;
  • Promoting increased physical activity through social media and the DPH and websites;
  • Educating and partnering with local planners and leaders on the social determinants of health to ensure a health in all policies approach, thus increasing the capacity for building healthy communities
  • Sharing information on the Motivate The First State campaign at This is a public-private partnership that has inspired thousands of Delaware residents to be more physically active and healthier. Through its free online social network participants can log a wide range of healthy activities and earn points that are converted to charitable donations that support several Delaware statewide organizations.

DPH Tips:

  • Re-thinking your drink to sugarless drinks can lead to a weight loss of up to 15 pounds in one year.  Visit
  • People at increased risk for type 2 diabetes can prevent or delay the disease's onset by losing 5 to 7 percent of their body weight. Delawareans who lose weight might also lower their blood pressure and cholesterol, and lessen pressure on their joints.
  • Becoming more physically active reduces the chance of developing chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Most people feel better after taking a brisk walk or run, or participating in other activities such as ice skating, swimming, or working out.  Find out how much physical activity you need at
  • Start exercising in smaller increments. Try being physically active for even a small amount of time every day or, at least 30 minutes three times a week.



Adult Obesity

o   In 2016 (Behavioral Risk Factor Survey), three-fourths (75.4%) of adults now say they drink no or almost no (less than 1 a day) sugar-sweetened sodas or other sugar-sweetened beverages.   

o   In 2015, only 15.2% of adults said they eat the recommended minimum of 5 fruits and vegetables a day (   

o   And only 20.2% of Delaware adults met the CDC physical activity guidelines for both aerobic and strength-building activity. 

o   However, overall activity levels have been increasing slightly, and 58.3% met aerobic guidelines, strength guidelines, or both (, up from around 50% a decade ago.    


Child Obesity:

Key Findings From the Nemours 2014 Delaware Survey of Children’s Health

  • Twenty-one percent of Delaware children, ages 2-17, were obese in 2014. The prevalence of obesity decreased from 2011; although, the difference between 2011 (21.3 percent) and 2014 (20.9 percent) was not statistically significant
  • However, there were significant changes in the demographics of obesity from 2011 to 2014.

o   Obesity decreased among Hispanic females, ages 2-17;

o   Obesity decreased among males, ages 6-11, overall.

o   More Delaware children were eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day in 2014 (54.0 percent) than in 2011 (50.4 percent).

o   The prevalence of Delaware children who limited consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB) to two cups or less improved from 2011 (57.2 percent) to 2014 (63.3 percent).

o   Delaware children were more physically active in 2014 than they were in 2011. In 2014, 54.9 percent of children engaged in 60 or more minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per day, up from 47.0 percent in 2011.

o   In 2014, more than two-thirds (69.1 percent) of Delaware children spent over two hours daily on electronic devices for non-school related activities.






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