By Tia Lynn Lecorchick, Staff Writer

The Morgan County Health Department held its monthly meeting on Nov. 18 to discuss the escalating obesity epidemic and ways to combat it.

Claude Burnett, director of the Northeast Health District, showed the board members a documentary on the health benefits of juicing called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.

The documentary follows Australian filmmaker, Joe Cross, as he embarks on a 60-day juice fast while traveling across America to challenge other unhealthy people to do the same.

The film recommends a juice-only cleanse, blended fresh from a mix of fruit and vegetables, to reverse years of unhealthy eating habits. Once the fast is complete, Cross insists that a “life of balance and moderation” must be adopted to stay healthy.

Burnett brought a juicer to the meeting and made the same juice cocktail featured in the documentary for board members to sample. He noted that over 60 percent of the average American’s diet is comprised of processed food and refined carbohydrates and only 5 percent is comprised of fruits and vegetables.

“Obesity is an epidemic in the United States and the governor of Georgia has made it a top priority. The cost of healthcare has doubled in the last 20 years, becoming 17 percent of the Gross Domestic Product,” explained Burnett. “Our budget is now 32 percent for healthcare.

The cost is escalating everywhere you look.” “We need to think about ways of dealing with the cost of healthcare, and reducing obesity is one of the ways to do that,” Burnett told the board. Burnett admitted that following the juice fast recommended in the film is not cheap.

If the fruits and vegetables are not organic, the diet typically costs $14 per day, he estimated. However, taking preventive measures, by eating healthy, will be much cheaper in the long run, according to Burnett. “It’s pay now, or pay later,” said Burnett.

“Americans are driving themselves into bankruptcy as a result of the health costs they will incur later on in life,’ explained Burnett. “We put food in our mouths and then put pills in our mouths to counteract what we just ate,” said Burnett. “This has to change.”

The monthly meeting is only the beginning of a campaign to raise awareness in the community concerning obesity and the negative health risks that result from it. “It may take years before this information really sinks in with the public. But we have to get it out there since obesity is emerging as the leading cause of death in Americans,” said Burnett.