Durham, N.C. — According to the Obesity Action Coalition, North Carolina's obesity rate has increased 80 percent in the last 15 years.
Nationally, as many as 90 million people are affected by obesity, and that number is growing. Experts say the number of obese people in the U.S. could climb to as many as 120 million in the next five years.
On Friday, a team of national leaders, local experts, state lawmakers and even the mayor of Durham teamed up at a news conference at Structure House to raise awareness and call for action against what many are calling a crisis and an epidemic.
Retired four-star Gen. Barry McCaffrey said the goal is to raise awareness and promote education for people dealing with obesity.
"It's a huge problem," McCaffrey said."What comes along with obesity, aside from being stigmatized in the workplace, is hypertension, heart problems and diabetes. To some extent, it's an education problem."
Structure House, a part of the CRC Health Group, offers weight-loss vacations for adults on its 12-acre campus and promotes an educational approach to weight loss.
The center promotes behavioral changes, nutrition and exercise while also providing medical support to those looking to lose weight and keep it off.
"A lot of this is lifestyle and education driven," McCaffrey said. "In our fast-paced society, particularly in our lower income levels, there is more dependence on fast foods. We want people to get educated, to understand healthy living."
Michael Theokas said he went to Structure House two years ago and has since lost 350 pounds. The experience taught him not to substitute food for relationships and to deal with his emotions in ways other than eating.
"I try to be very mindful and say, 'OK, I’m feeling stressed right now. Is going to eat, is that really going to help? Or should I deal with why I’m stressed?'”
Another focus of Friday's event will be obesity in children. According to the Obesity Action Coalition, one out of every three children is affected by obesity. Children considered obese are 70 percent more likely to become obese adults. Wellspring at Structure House, a new program launched designed for youth, launched in Durham Feb. 1.
Friday's conference, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., is free and open to the public.