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      Battling obesity in Marquette County

      Marquette is one of the most obese counties in Michigan, one of our country's most overweight states. Why? The Health Department says it's two-fold: limited resources for healthy food and a lack of physical activity.

      Our cold environment causes 40 percent of residents to be sedentary and to almost hibernate in the winter months. Habits have been passed down from generation to generation in Marquette County, creating a disappointing trend.

      But in the last year-and-a-half, Marquette County has found a new way to battle obesity, and it starts with early intervention, catching kids at a young age when they are most easily influenced.

      Youth health programs have been popping out of the woodwork, proving local health officials aren't taking this heavy matter lightly. Programs like Bell Hospital's year old Strength From Within program, gives NICE, Negaunee and Ishpeming students incentive to be active and eat healthy.

      "Trying to reach kids before they develop the bad habits for eating and exercise that plague us as adults," said Bell V.P. Of Operations, David Aro.

      Middle schoolers set weight and nutrition goals with mentors. The most progressive pre-teen gets a free year of tuition at Northern Michigan University. The program hopes to stop obesity with prevention. Last year's winner, Alyssa Palomaki, wasn't overweight; she just wanted to be healthier.

      "It's not your size, it's more about being healthy and having a healthy lifestyle and getting enough exercise and eating the right things...not just how big you are," said Palomaki.

      Alyssa did lose 10 pounds, and what she lost in weight, she gained in confidence. That's the hope for all Marquette youth and that they can influence their families.

      "We've had a number of kids that taught their parents how to cook healthy, we've had children that have told their parents that they didn't want to go to a fast food place because there was no healthy food there," Aro said.

      Last year, Bell's 60 participants lost a total of five percent body fat, and they're not alone in their efforts. Marquette General's Blue Print for Health program is also fighting obesity in youth with weekly clinics. The health department says Marquette County has a long way to go in their battle of the bulge, but with new, local allies, we're making progress.