MAYVILLE - Treating the state's 1.4 million overweight and obese children costs hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
Health officials in Chautauqua County know the problem all too well.
"I think we are pretty consistent with what has been seen across the state and the nation," Christine Schuyler, director of health and human services, said about the county's obesity problem, affecting children and adults. "What we are concerned about are the long-lasting effects of obesity tied to health problems - like diabetes, heart disease and strokes. There's also mental health components we need to look at."
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli recently delivered a speech to the Association of New York State Youth Bureaus.
He urged state leaders and the state Department of Health to work together to identify strategies to tackle the growing problem.
"Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, affecting one third of New York's kids," said DiNapoli, who also released a report on obesity and its costs to New York state. "It's taking a toll on their health and on the state's bottom line. We cannot afford to ignore this problem, and literally, let it grow. Parents, schools, community-based organizations and government officials at all levels must work together to address childhood obesity if we are to reduce the human and fiscal costs for New York."
According to the state Health Department, 61.6 percent of adults in Chautauqua County are considered overweight or obese, 2 percent higher than the state average.
The diabetes rate in the county is at 11.2 percent, while cardiovascular disease is at 9.1 percent. Both are higher than state averages for both men and women.
"It's definitely a problem. You can see it right in the statistics," said Breeanne Agett, junior planner for the county Health Department. "There is definitely a health problem in the county."
The obesity rate in children isn't any better.
According to the state, 29.2 percent of students in Chautauqua County are either obese or overweight, 3 percent lower than the state average. The highest rates within the county are at the middle- and high-school level, where 36.9 percent of students are overweight or obese.
"Honestly I don't have an answer why the rates are so much higher in our middle and high schools," Agett said. "I guess when you're in middle school you have all this energy and run around. Then you get to high school and it's a very sedentary lifestyle."
Costs to treat medical-related issues from obesity also are taking a toll on the state.
In 2011, costs for treating obesity-related medical problems was at $327 million. However, DiNapoli said when left unaddressed, costs balloon to $11.8 billion a year to treat the same, long-term problem in adults.
The state's Medicaid program spends more than $4.3 billion annually as a result of obesity, the comptroller's report states. Costs include treatment for diabetes and heart disease, both obesity related.
"Children who are obese are likely to carry that into their adulthood," Agett said. "These health costs brings up premiums for everyone else."
The county Health Department is turning its sights to school districts as a way to begin tackling the obesity epidemic. The county hopes to teach students the health benefits of eating locally grown food. Getting students physically active while learning also is key.
"We are reaching out to the schools and establishing this partnership," Agett said. "We want kids to learn at an early age what they should be eating and getting out of a sedentary lifestyle."
Agett admitted the county's obesity rate won't change overnight. "It will be a long process," she said. "It's about getting to kids and teaching them at an early age."
The county recently received a community transformation grant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The funding, in the amount of $450,000 over the next two years, will allow Chautauqua County to implement programming to reduce the burden of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.
"We are being presented with a critical public health mission-driven opportunity to make significant strides toward the prevention of disease and promotion of health of our county residents," Schuyler said recently.