If you live in South Carolina, obesity affects you, directly or indirectly.

For instance, as Brindy McNair reported last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report saying our state's diabetes rate doubled between 1995 and 2010. The two biggest factors for controlling type 2 diabetes are diet and exercise, and it's one of many diseases exacerbated or influenced by being overweight.

It's serious enough that DHEC Director Catherine Templeton said her agency needs to make obesity its primary focus.

Even if you live a predominantly healthy lifestyle, obesity touches your family or friends, and it affects you through health insurance rates.

So when about 100 people gather Thursday for a meeting called Conquering Tri-County's Obesity Epidemic: Challenges, Changes, Choices, you can be sure of a couple of things.

It's a group of people who are committed to making a difference in the lives of people in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties, and they will take action.

What's working

The good news is that we don't have to look very far to find programs that already are working to combat obesity. Melissa Buckner, director of Eat Smart Move More Colleton County, is one of the folks who's going to talk about successes.

The program's approach is simple and yet comprehensive: if you give people opportunities for healthy choices in all areas of their lives, they're more likely to take healthy action.

“The idea is to constantly reinforce the message,” Buckner said, by providing information about healthy eating and physical activity at church, and at work, and to children at school, as well as in the community at large.

That means having a dietician go through the grocery store aisles to label foods as Eat Smart items to make shopping for healthy food easier, for example. Or training school kitchen staff on things like knife skills so they can more confidently prepare fresh fruits and vegetables.

In addition, kids and teachers are encouraged to take laps in the gym before they settle into their classrooms, and they're met with lunch options that are marked Go, Slow or Whoa to identify what they should eat more of and what should be an occasional treat.

It means working with employers like Lowcountry Community Action Agency where they have no vending machines, free water for employees and good access to sidewalks and safe places to walk, and where there's a tobacco use surcharge on the employee health plan for smokers.

It's a combination of getting people to make individual and environmental changes, Buckner said.

A Faithful Families initiative through the churches has led to policy changes, like offering water as a beverage option at church functions. They're also making changes that involve the whole community, like installing walking trails around their churches, or gardens open to the public, or basketball courts.

What's next

There's good news and food for thought in Colleton County's experience. Though the program is blossoming now, the foundation was laid in 2003 through a precursor program called COACH — Coalition Organized to Address Children's Health.

So time and persistence are key.

There are lots of programs in the tri-county area that are involved in fighting obesity and creating healthy lifestyles, and they've already had tangible, measurable success.

What will take these programs to the next level is a coordinated, networked approach, and that's where Thursday's kickoff meeting will start. You'll be hearing more about this in the coming weeks and months from reporter David Quick and others here at The Post and Courier.

Reach Melanie Balog at mbalog@postandcourier.com or 937-5565.