Studies show that 60 percent of New Haven adolescents are obese — nearly 50 percent above the national average — and state Sen. Toni N. Harp wants to do something about that.

Harp convened a task force earlier this month to encourage children to adopt healthier lifestyles in an effort to cut down on obesity.

“We must address this issue and make it a priority, because if we don’t, these kids face a grim future in terms of both physiological risks and psychosocial problems,” Harp said.

The task force will emphasize increasing physical activity and improving food choices. The group plans to promote healthier, alternative lifestyles and better cardiovascular health by improving facilities for exercise.

The focus will be around “making neighborhoods more amenable to activities, not just for kids, but families,” Harp said. “We plan to improve food choices not by removing soda and snack machines, but by providing better food alternatives in addition.”

Obesity in children increases the risk of Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“Type II used to be a disease of the middle to old adults,” said Margaret Grey, associate dean for research at the Yale School of Nursing. “In the past five to 10 years, there’s been this remarkable jump in the number of adolescent cases.”

Type II diabetes is an “insidious disease with subtle symptoms. It often leads to heart disease, kidney disease and blindness,” Grey said.

The higher obesity rates reflect societal changes, Harp said.

“We’ve become more sedentary as a society,” Harp said. “Before there wasn’t as much fast food, parents prepared meals from scratch, and kids didn’t spend as much time before a television.”