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HHS and VA to Target Diabetes, Obesity Among American Veterans


Monday, Feb. 27, 2006, With obesity and deadly diabetes at higher levels among America’s veterans, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have announced a coordinated campaign to educate veterans and their families about ways to combat these health issues.

“Central to our goal of controlling the cost of heath care is the promotion of wellness, fitness and the prevention of chronic disease,” HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. “We are working to encourage Americans to adopt healthy lifestyles and to take the responsibility for making wise choices to improve their fitness and health.”

Veterans are nearly three times as likely as the general population to have diabetes, one of the major complications associated with being overweight. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease (part of the National Institutes of Health), 7 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes. Among veterans receiving VA health care, the rate is 20 percent.

“Inactive lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits can cause needless suffering for America’s veterans,” VA Secretary R. James Nicholson said. “Obesity and diabetes are major threats to the health and lifestyles of our veterans, who are deserving of a robust campaign to educate them on healthy habits.”

In a news conference here today, Secretary Leavitt, VA Secretary Nicholson, VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Jonathan B. Perlin and Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona announced the start of a campaign called “HealthierUS Veterans” -- a multi-pronged educational effort to encourage healthy eating and physical activity among veterans, their families and members of their communities. VA medical centers will be the hubs of the program where they will promote nutrition and exercise with participating “Steps to a Healthier US” grantee organizations, throughout the country.

“Our service men and women are known for their extraordinarily high levels of fitness,” Dr. Perlin said. “We want our veterans to be identified the same way.”

Overweight patients receiving VA health care may participate in weight loss programs tailored to their needs. They may also receive pedometers, diet advisories and “prescriptions” suggesting how much to walk -- or, in the case of wheelchair users, how much to roll.

The two secretaries also plan to kick off regional educational campaigns this spring in four cities where VA medical centers and HHS Steps programs collaborate. Local celebrities and members of veterans’ service organizations will be invited to participate.

In May, the “HealthierUS Veterans” program will participate with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness during the council’s annual rally in Washington.


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