Tobacco, obesity and lack of physical activity are the top three threats to the future health and productivity of Arkansans, according to a leading health professional.

In promoting the Healthy Active Arkansas 10-year plan, which aims to reduce the state’s body mass index by 5 percent and save the state $2 billion in health costs, Dr. Joseph Thompson of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement told a group of business leaders Friday at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce First Friday Breakfast there was progress being made to cut adult tobacco use in Arkansas, but e-cigarettes are gaining ground in the younger set.

“Today we are losing the battle on vaping in our kids” said Thompson, a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. “10 percent of Arkansas high school students have used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days … It’s happening in schools and out of schools.”

E-cigarettes are not taxed the same and some rules don’t apply to them the same way they do as with regular cigarettes, the doctor added. One in four adults in the state still use tobacco.

“There’s a movement inside of your legislature right now to even this up and protect our youth. I’m seriously concerned that we’re going to have a nicotine addiction that takes over our next generation,” Thompson said.

Arkansas is also one of the most obese states in the nation, surpassing the 33 percent mark in 2017. The percentage of people whose body mass index qualifies as “obese” was about 16 percent in the state 20 years ago. About 12 percent of Arkansans have Type 2 diabetes now, too, the doctor said.

“It’s costing our families quality of life of their loved ones, costing our businesses insurance costs and sucking up resources in our community that otherwise would not be needed,” Thompson said. “The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says our next generation of kids may be the first to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.”

Healthy Active Arkansas also encourages communities to make building requirements that call for more sidewalks in urban areas to “stimulate activity.” Walkable overpasses on busy streets and highways are also encouraged, he added.

Using local produce in schools, bringing back recess in schools, 15-minute walk breaks instead of smoke breaks at places of business, decreasing sugar-sweetened drinks, promoting breastfeeding to young mothers-to-be, and promoting small changes in healthy eating habits are other parts of Health Active Arkansas, the doctor added.

“If we could reduce sugar sweetened beverages alone we would be halfway to our goal,” Thompson said. “And yes that includes sweet tea.”

Several local companies were recognized Friday as winners of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual Healthy Workplace Award winners for their participation in Wellness Week. About 180 chamber members attended the event.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said although North Korea and U.S.-Mexico border security is a couple major challenge for the United States, health is one of the largest issues facing the nation.

“It’s one we talk a lot about but we simply are not moving in the right direction,” Boozman said when congratulating the businesses on their Healthy Workplace Awards given by the chamber of commerce. “It’s something we have to address.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-3rd District, said healthcare costs are the fastest-growing segment of mandatory spending — over pensions and retirement.

Before offering some other “sobering” information about the national deficit and national debt, Womack, the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee, said health and drug abuse are the “two great, real preventable challenges facing our country and it is within our ability to solve the problem if we just muster the courage to do it.”