We need every possible tool in New Jersey to handle

We need every possible tool in New Jersey to handle the obesity epidemic. The obesity epidemic in the United States took on new meaning during the pandemic, presenting elevated risk factors for severe illness from COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 78% of people who were hospitalized, needed a ventilator, or died from COVID-19 were affected by obesity or obesity-related diseases. As the nation and our state work to emerge from the virus stronger, policymakers at all levels of government must redouble efforts to turn the tide against obesity and its impact on the health of Americans, particularly those in racial and ethnic minority groups who are disproportionately affected by the condition.

For too long, people have held an outdated and dangerous view that obesity is the result of lifestyle or behavioral issues. The truth is that obesity is a complex disease with many genetic, biological and environmental factors. Neighborhood design, access to healthy, affordable foods and beverages and access to safe and convenient places for physical activity can all impact obesity.

The racial and ethnic disparities in obesity underscore the need for policymakers to continually address the social determinants of health, such as poverty, education and housing.

As a state legislator, I have long been committed to advancing policies that ensure New Jersey communities, environments and systems support a healthy, active lifestyle for all.

Working with my colleagues in the Legislature, I am proud to have supported legislation to increase access to healthy, affordable foods in corner stores, to make roads safer for New Jersey bikers and walkers, to promote maternal health and to provide our youngest, most vulnerable babies the healthiest start possible. We also expanded access to and coverage for telemedicine and telehealth services.

While we’ve made great progress, there is no question that the pandemic revealed just how much more work we need to do to combat obesity and health disparities in New Jersey. I remain committed to helping move our state forward and level the playing field.

It’s important to note that our representatives in Washington also have an opportunity to make great progress in the fight against obesity. Right now, there is a bipartisan bill in Congress that can increase access to valuable tools to help address obesity.

The Treat & Reduce Obesity Act (TROA), aims to effectively treat and reduce obesity in older Americans by enhancing Medicare beneficiaries’ access to health care providers that are best suited to provide intensive behavioral therapy and by allowing Medicare Part D to cover Food & Drug Administration-approved obesity drugs.

Medicare covers intensive behavioral therapy in limited settings by a limited set of provider types. This bill would expand the behavioral therapy benefit to include psychologists, dietitians and other qualified providers and would also create coverage for anti-obesity medications. The FDA has approved those medications for long-term obesity treatment, and experts like the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommend the medications as a critical obesity treatment for many patients.

Despite their effectiveness, the medications are excluded from most insurance plans, including Medicare and many Medicaid and private health plans. This exclusion restricts patient access to effective obesity treatments, especially for lower-income patients who cannot afford supplemental coverage or out-of-pocket expenses.

One of the many lessons the pandemic has taught us is that we need every possible tool at our disposal to address the obesity epidemic.

I urge Congress and the Biden administration to improve coverage for anti-obesity medications and intensive behavioral therapy that would ensure Medicare beneficiaries have access to the full spectrum of interventions to manage obesity and prevent other serious chronic diseases.

By working together, we can reverse the dangerous trajectory we are on.

Assemblyman Daniel Benson represents the 14th Legislative District, which includes parts of Mercer and Middlesex counties.

Big Snow may not reopen until Halloween, North America’s only indoor ski area announced Friday, after it was damaged by a fire last weekend.

Big Snow, which is part of the American Dream mega-mall in East Rutherford, said it had begun the necessary cleanup, repair and inspection process this week.

But, it said in a statement, “To allow this work to happen, we will need to extend our closure several more weeks and will be refunding all pre-purchased visits through October 31st as a precaution.”

Skiers with tickets for dates the slope is closed will get refunds, while multi-day passes will be extended to account for the closure, Big Snow said.

Authorities said the fire was reported at 4:15 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25, inside Big Snow’s vast, sloping structure off Route 3. Authorities said the fire was was extinguished by 9:30 a.m. and the American Dream mall was able to open just after 1:20 p.m., though Big Snow has remained closed since then. No one was reported injured in the blaze, which authorities said originated near the top of the 16-story slope.

An emailed statement from Big Snow on Friday credited the quick response by the Meadowlands Fire Station and local departments with minimizing damage related to the fire.

The cause was still under investigation as of last Sunday, though a State Police spokesman said Saturday that the blaze had not been labelled suspicious. The Meadowlands Fire Department, an agency that responds to fires at the Meadowlands Sports Complex and the American Dream mall, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Deputy Chief Phillip Taormina of the East Rutherford Police said Friday that his department responded to the fire but was not involved in the follow-up investigation.

Big Snow is an indoor, 16-story, 180,000 square-foot ski and snowboard park that is kept cold by heavy duty chillers that maintain a 28 degree temperature year-round. It is located within the sprawling American Dream, a massive 3.3-million-square-foot retail and entertainment complex just off the New Jersey Turnpike in East Rutherford opened in late 2019.

Big Snow is operated by Mountain Creek Resort, the outdoor ski and recreation area in Vernon. Mountain Creek referred an inquiry from NJ Advance Media to a media relations firm for Big Snow, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

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