CHARLESTON, W.Va.¬†—¬†More than 300 participants from 15 southern states will take part in the 12th Annual Southern Obesity Summit which, for the first time, is being held in Charleston.

The conference begins Monday afternoon at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center, local spokesman Jim Strawn said.

“We expect about 325 attendees. Last year the 11th annual conference was in Atlanta, Georgia and we have surpassed attendees and we surpassed the attendees (there). The local stakeholders should be very proud,” Strawn said.

The summit is billed as the “largest regional obesity prevention event in the United States.”

Strawn said a recent obesity study once again showed West Virginia has to address the issue of obesity.

“It wasn’t pretty for us. We were ranked number-1 unfortunately with 38.1 percent of West Virginians being clinically obese,” Strawn said.

Focus areas of the summit will include early child care, food access, nutrition, schools, health care, physical activity and worksite wellness. The goal is to prevent obesity by promoting collaboration, sharing successful policy and community-based intervention strategies and defining a strategy for inter-state initiatives.

“We’ve got to get to work,” Strawn said. “We’ve got to take back our health in West Virginia.”

Each year, the summit draws hundreds of policymakers, leaders with community-based organizations, federal and state government officials, health care providers and others.

In addition to West Virginia, states involved include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Summit activities are scheduled through Wednesday.