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      Your Health Matters: A growing epidemic

      After having her second daughter about three years ago, Kate Raven of Traverse City decided she wanted to make a healthy lifestyle change.

      "I wanted to loose some weight. I was much more overweight than I am now and I wanted to be a good role model for my kids," says Raven.

      Raven didn't want a quick fix but instead a long term solution that included a healthy diet and regular exercise, and she wanted to include her family in the process. So, she started simply walking through her neighborhood which eventually turned into daily runs.

      "Over the first two years I lost between 25 to 30 pounds. It was a gradual process," says Raven.

      That process also included a healthy diet for the whole family.

      "I started counting calories. When you really start looking at what's in food, you feel better," says Raven.

      In an effort to promote healthy lifestyle changes like the Ravens, Munson Medical Center conducted a recent Community Needs Assessment of five counties: Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau. They discovered a list of health concerns that raised red flags, with obesity at the top of the list.

      "We are totally in line with the state of Michigan. Michigan also identified obesity as the largest problem we have to tackle. We found that nationally one-third of the population is obese. To be obese is typically 30 pounds overweight," says Munson Community Heath manager, Diane Butler.

      Butler says the obesity epidemic is two-fold and it didn't happen overnight. "This problem has crept up on us because of a decrease in physical activity. Nutrition is the other piece. We eat a lot of fast food, eat of a lot of sugary foods, those empty calories that have high fat content. Our serving sizes have also increased," says Butler. This combination is affecting people of all ages across the region and that's where Munson wants to step in. They're working with the Traverse City Area Chamber, schools even healthcare providers to educate them.

      "We need to look at this from a community perspective. Are there fresh fruits and vegetables available at a reasonable price? The bottom line is if we don't do anything about this problem it's projected that in Michigan, half of our population is going to be obese by 2030," says Butler.

      For more information about the obesity epidemic there is also a series running on HBO called Weight of the Nation that focuses on the issue. Click here for a series of trailers that are available.