Our-Take...-Obama-administration-should-change-environment-to-solve-obesity-problem

Our Take... Obama administration should change environment to solve obesity problem

Our Take… Obama administration should change environment to solve obesity problem
Healthscaping – Issue 2
Feb. 9, 2009

The Obama administration is inheriting more than a nation with a serious economic recession; the 44th president will govern the fattest group of Americans this country’s every seen. Nearly two thirds of American adults and one third of American children are overweight or obese, and these numbers continue to rise.

President Obama has promised to reform our health care system. This system spends some $2 trillion a year – about twice the amount per capita of other industrialized countries – but fails to cover 44 million Americans, so this reform is long overdue. But medical care does not and cannot solve the epidemic of obesity. People don’t eat or get exercise in a doctor’s office, and doctors’ advice to eat less or exercise more doesn’t change their behavior between visits. If health care reform stops at revamping the health insurance system, we are not likely to see this epidemic subside.

The drastic increase in American’s weight over the past 30 years can’t be attributed to genetics or psychology. Americans aren’t blind to the problem. Nearly half are trying to lose weight, but they are failing. The culprit for this epidemic is a changed physical and social environment. Americans are moving less and eating more thanks to communities filled with calorie-dense snack foods, “labor-saving devices” and passive transportation systems that prevent people from limiting their intake of energy or expending enough energy.

The source of the obesity epidemic is larger than any of us individually, and it will take collective efforts to solve. The focus must shift from diets and exercise advice to changing the physical and social environmental to make healthy living easier. This means, among other steps: building streets and neighborhoods that allow people to travel on foot or by bicycle; building or renovating parks and playgrounds, and using schoolyards as playgrounds after school; increasing the availability of stores that sell fruits and vegetables; decreasing the glut of fast-food restaurants and “corner stores” that sell calorie-dense foods and sweetened beverages; and implementing incentives for the food industry to prominently display calorie counts and reduce their portion sizes and calorie contents.

During the campaign, President Obama’s health care reform plan stressed the value of prevention and public health, and specifically endorsed “healthy environments” that will allow Americans “to pursue healthy choices and behaviors that can help ward off chronic and preventable diseases.” The plan explained that “healthy environments include sidewalks, biking paths and walking trails; [and] local grocery stores with fruits and vegetables.” It is refreshing and exciting that this president understands the importance of healthy environments and is willing to commit to making these changes. We hope his administration doesn’t get so distracted with the difficulties of passing insurance reform that they forget to implement them.

Topics:   built environment , obesity

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