WASHINGTON, DC -- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded $119 million in new grants to states to promote wellness and prevention.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made the announcement with Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during a conference call today.

“Imagine if we didn’t have police patrols or locks on our doors or windows to reduce burglaries. We just sit around and wait until we got robbed and then try to catch whoever did it,” Sebelius said during the call. “Unfortunately, that’s a little like our health system is today. Often, we don’t intervene until people are already sick. That’s not good for our health, but it’s also not good for our economy.”

In the new health and wellness initiative called Communities Putting Prevention to Work, the $119 million will go to all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and six Pacific territories to help reduce obesity, increase physical activity, improve nutrition and decrease smoking.

“We know that those ingredients are the most important actions for combating chronic disease,” Sebelius said. “And these grants are going to fund some of the most promising strategies we have for achieving these goals.”

Specifically, the funding will focus on efforts to help communities and schools support healthy choices through a variety of methods, including using media to support healthy food and beverage choices and increasing access to healthy choices and safe places to be active.

Sebelius highlighted two programs that will benefit from the grants. Mississippi will receive nearly $3 million to help fund a two-year campaign for a state-wide smoke-free air policy. Rhode Island will receive $3 million to develop a new model for integrating active living into all local planning decisions.

Sebelius hearkened President Obama’s commitment to a more proactive approach to health and wellness. She also mentioned another new initiative headed by First Lady Michelle Obama to reduce childhood obesity.

Frieden offered statistics related to smoking and obesity that justify the grants. Frieden said tobacco remains the No. 1 cause of preventable deaths in the U.S. Also, two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese.

“The medical costs of obesity now account for about 10 percent of all health care costs,” Frieden said, “and more than a quarter of the increase in health care costs in recent years can be attributed to the increase in obesity.”