Montana State University

Program designed to fight obesity in Montana awarded more than $4 million

July 31, 2008 -- Anne Pettinger, MSU News

A program designed to fight obesity throughout the state by promoting healthy environments has been awarded a federal grant that will total more than $4 million over a span of five years. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
A program devoted to fighting obesity and improving the health of Montanans has been awarded a federal grant that will total more than $4 million over a span of five years.

The $823,955 per-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is nearly double the $450,000 amount the program had been receiving each year since 2004.

The program, called the Montana Nutrition and Physical Activity Program to Prevent Obesity and Other Chronic Diseases, is administered by Montana State University. It works to fight obesity throughout the state by partnering with other entities such as schools, day care centers and workplaces to promote healthy environments.

Major goals of the program, which began about four years ago after Montana became one of 28 states to receive the CDC grant, include increasing physical activity by making the environment more conducive to walking and biking; promoting breastfeeding; increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables; working on reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages; encouraging families to turn off the TV; and helping people understand the importance of caloric balance.

After gathering input from stakeholders across the state, the program released a state plan, detailing ways of achieving the goals of preventing obesity and other chronic diseases.

One example of the plan at work is Shelby, where the program works closely with local leaders to promote and measure healthy nutrition and physical activity behaviors among adults and children.

The town of about 3,200 people added a fitness center to the community's civic center and hired a fitness trainer, which local businesses subsidized. The community also built a six-mile trail connecting the businesses, hospital, homes and schools. Restaurants say patrons are starting to order healthier food items, and major employers are partnering with health care providers to offer obesity prevention interventions at work, said Ninia Baehr, the program's manager.

"That story makes me hopeful," Baehr said. "I think our program has helped a lot in some communities and will continue to help."

Meanwhile, program administrators like Baehr continue to seek partners in the fields of education, transportation, planning, business, Extension Services, agriculture, parks and recreation, health care, tribal organizations, civic organizations and advocacy groups.

"I think we've had some successes in our pilot projects, and the additional money will allow us to enter into subcontracts in areas across the state," Baehr said. "We're hoping this extra money will allow us to do more of what we're already doing in more communities."

But communities are also fighting an uphill battle, she said.

"Rates of obesity in adults and children are continuing to rise across the country, including in Montana," Baehr said. "Kids are showing some of the health problems associated with obesity at younger and younger ages."

In 2007, the CDC reported that 61.8 percent of Montana adults were overweight or obese, and 23.4 percent of Montana high school students were overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.

Overweight and obese individuals have a substantially higher risk of illness from high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and other chronic diseases, Baehr said.

"Fighting obesity in our state will only be possible through collaboration and partnership," Baehr said. "In order to make physical activity and healthy eating more a part of the everyday lives of Montanans, our own institutions - schools, day care centers, health facilities, worksites and tribal and community agencies - will need to find ways to promote these activities among the people whose lives they touch."

For a related article, see:
MSU Extension asks people to take the first step, March 26, 2007

Ninia Baehr, (406) 994-5686 or