Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) began a campaign Tuesday to promote exercise and healthier diet among Virginians, and he led several hundred state workers on a half-mile walk from the state Capitol.
Warner's new program, known as Healthy Virginians, aims to reduce the rate of chronic problems such as obesity and hypertension through diet, exercise and other prevention techniques, state officials said. The governor said he was particularly focused on reducing these conditions among Medicaid recipients and children.
During a 10-minute speech before the lunch-hour walk, Warner told nearly 500 state employees, who were joined by some Richmond city workers, that 58 percent of Virginians are overweight and that 23 percent do not exercise on a regular basis. He added that state statistics show that 25 percent of Virginians smoke.
"Every day in Virginia, lives can be extended and their quality improved by following a few simple rules for a healthier lifestyle," Warner said before the walk to a health fair in the city's Shockoe Bottom community. As part of the program, he said, the state will "encourage Virginians to take an additional 2,000 steps each day . . . which is only equivalent to a 15-minute walk a day. . . . Making that small step, a doable step, is going to lead to a healthier outcome."
Warner, joined by several members of his staff and Cabinet -- some in running shoes or track suits -- said the state saves money if people are healthier.
"On an annual basis, Virginia taxpayers are paying $200 million . . . in terms of state costs to deal with issues coming out from obesity and unhealthy lifestyles," Warner said. He added that he hopes state employees will change their 15-minute cigarette break to a 15-minute walking break. "We've got to change that."
As part of the initiative, state employees will have access to a health assessment and health tips via the Internet and a walking program coordinated by Virginia Tech.
The campaign "can help state employees and their families take charge of their health and ultimately lower their risk for . . . cardiovascular disease," Cathleen Smith Grzesiek, director of public advocacy for the Virginia Council of the American Heart Association, said in a statement. "It's a wonderful first step toward encouraging all Virginians to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle."
In coming weeks, administration officials said, Warner will unveil other proposals to encourage Virginia's public schools to promote physical activity and health education among children. Those will include encouraging school districts to adopt healthier vending machine items and cafeteria choices.
The state will look at "everything from what kind of food they're getting in the schools . . . to trying to make sure we encourage more physical activity," Warner said. "This is not a one-day effort."
Warner said he will initiate changes to the state's Medicaid program that will help reduce disease among the system's 600,000 participants.
Jane H. Woods, secretary of health and human resources, said, "We will be a part of improving the health status throughout Virginia, whether it's for our children, our adults, our seniors."