Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat

Most residents of Tuolumne and Calaveras counties are overweight and according to survey results released this week, most also want to do more about it.

According to Tuolumne County Health Officer Dr. Todd Stolp, almost 60 percent of adults and about 30 percent of those younger than 18 in the county are either overweight or obese.

The figures are 55 percent and 26 percent for Calaveras, said Calaveras County Health Officer Dr. Dean Kelaita.

Though alarming, those percentages place the Lode counties "pretty much in the middle" of California as a whole, Stolp said.

A survey in August of about 150 voters in each of 12 rural counties included Tuolumne and Calaveras. It is part of the CA4Health Community Transformation Grant initiative funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Public Health Institute.

Eighty-four percent of Tuolumne County residents surveyed and three-quarters of those in Calaveras agreed that neighborhoods where people live affect their risk for obesity.

This will lead the Calaveras County Public Health Department to seek safer walking and cycling areas as respondents indicated building parks where people can be more active will help prevent disease, Kelaita said.

"It's not surprising that community concern about obesity is high," he said. "The Public Health Department is working with local community members to prevent chronic disease before it happens."

Most residents in each county recognized sugary soft drinks contribute to weight gain and associated problems like Type II diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Ninety percent of Calaveras residents thought so and 64 percent also strongly favored strengthening school nutrition standards to limit the types of unhealthy drinks and foods sold in schools.

"Nobody in their right mind would put 22 packets of sugar into 20 ounces of water and drink it," Stolp said. "But that's what's in a lot of these drinks."

The survey found that area residents support a multi-pronged approach to preventing obesity with roles for health care providers, schools, food retailers, restaurants, employers and local government in the effort to reverse the obesity epidemic, Stolp said.

Some ways in which this is beginning to be addressed include a shift to healthier items in vending machines at county offices, grant-funded additions to the Dragoon Gulch Trail to make Sonora more walkable and student health advisory committees in schools, he added.

The student committees are working to improve vending machine choices in the schools and partner with merchants to design in-store displays that better highlight healthier foods and beverages, Stolp said.

Kelaita said Calaveras County will look to train volunteers as community health workers to conduct chronic disease self-management workshops.

They can encourage patients to be more physically active and assist patients with diet and community resources, he said.