Medical Advice: Addressing childhood obesity NOW to avoid disease LATER

Healthcare is becoming more expensive every year. In 2010, the United States spent 17 percent of its budget on healthcare costs. By 2016, that number is expected to rise to 20 percent. Chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, account for the majority of the national health expenditures. Moreover, increased rates in the number of people who are overweight or obese have contributed to higher rates of chronic illnesses and increased amount of spending on healthcare in the United States.

Obesity and rising healthcare costs continue to be an issue here in Polk. In Polk County, 37.6 percent of residents are considered obese, which is well above the state average of 27.2 percent. Building a Healthier Polk is a group of community partners, brought together by Polk Vision, who are working towards the goal of reducing the obesity rate in our community. The Building a Healthier Polk initiative is tackling this issue through six key strategy areas: school-based, community-based, primary care physicians, worksite-based, higher education, and communication. The partnership has brought much needed awareness to the problems of obesity.

Childhood obesity is also a great concern in Polk County and the state of Florida. The most recent data reveals the following:

Middle and High School Students Who are Overweight

  • 18.8 percent of students in Polk County
  • 15.5 percent of students in Florida

Middle and High School Students Who are Obese

  • 14.5 percent of students in Polk County
  • 11.5 percent of students in Florida

Although these numbers are alarming, we are striving to change unhealthy patterns that lead to obesity and inspire new, healthy lifestyle choices to reduce childhood obesity in the county. One way the Florida Department of Health in Polk County is addressing childhood obesity is by utilizing the 5-2-1-0 Initiative through the WIC division. This effort is designed to encourage children and their families to adapt a life style with simple and healthier options by choosing:

  • 5 – Five fruits and vegetables every day
  • 2 – Two hours or less of screen time per day
  • 1 – One hour or more of physical activity every day
  • 0 – Zero sugar-sweetened drinks

The solution for obesity comes down to healthy choices. One small choice today, such as one part of the 5-2-1-0 Initiative, can be the first step in addressing obesity and chronic diseases. If everyone makes that one healthy choice, maybe then can we curtail the ever-increasing healthcare costs.

For more information about obesity, please visit and


story by DR. ULYEE CHOE, Director of FDOH-Polk

About the Author: Dr. Ulyee Choe, an infectious disease physician, serves the community as director of the Florida Department of Health in Polk County (FDOH-Polk) and as a Polk County Medical Association member. For more information about FDOH-Polk, visit

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