---- — We all know that being obese can kill you. High blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and on and on. The National Institutes of Health says obesity and overweight together are the second-leading cause of preventable death in the United States, close behind tobacco use.
Living Up North doesn't make us immune. Michigan ranks as the fifth-fattest state in the nation, with 65.5 percent of its citizens overweight or obese, but the five-county area is worse. We weigh in at just over 68 percent overweight. That's about 114,000 people in the five-county area, according to Diane Butler, who is leading an effort to battle obesity through Munson Medical Center.
She's working with area employers, the Chamber of Commerce, schools, health care providers and Munson's own 4,000-plus workers to find and apply innovative programs to help fight obesity, make people more healthy and save lives.
But it's also about making life more worth living. Beyond the mortality tables there's a side to obesity that doesn't often get talked about.
Sixty-five-year-old Steve Hanna, who works in Grand Traverse County's 911 dispatch center, has lost about 100 pounds in the last year through Munson's Healthy Weight Center, but he also gained something else.
"I felt so terrible. I was not a happy person," before losing the weight, said Hanna, who now weighs 200 pounds, give or take. "When you're that heavy, you don't love yourself, you don't love people, you don't love anything."
Hanna got help from the county's insurance, which paid for Munson's four-month Healthy Weight Center program; that would have cost him $435 plus the expense of the pre-packaged food he ate for one month. Hanna initially lost a pound every day, but slowed to about two to three pounds a week.
Grand Traverse human resources director Jennifer Seman said the program benefits the county by saving on doctor visits and supplies usually part of dealing with overweight employees.
"(W)e definitely come out ahead," she said.
The county is hardly alone. Hagerty Insurance Agency, for instance, provides pedometers to employees each spring with a challenge to walk 10,000 steps each day. The company just opened its own gym and provides a range of fitness classes. Training and wellness manager Susan Vigland says people who are healthy and fit perform better and are happier at their work.
In a place where winter can bring long days, little sun and plenty of reasons to stay indoors, falling into bad eating and exercise habits — and packing on the pounds — is too easy.
But help is there if you just put down the remote and look for it.