Friday, March 18, 2011

Obesity - A Trend We Should, and Can, Reverse

Imagine: You want to maintain a healthy diet, but you don’t have convenient access to grocery stores that provide a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, or you live and work where it is far easier to eat high calorie, high fat foods than to eat more nutritious alternatives. Regardless of your good intentions, you may gain weight, increase your blood pressure, develop diabetes, and die a premature death. That’s how social, economic, and other environmental factors influence your health.

In February, in collaboration with the InCommons initiative, we convened a gathering of people who want to empower communities to take control of their health. We shared knowledge with one another about the issue, and we specifically looked at three initiatives.

Columbia Heights School District created an “Edible Schoolyard/Outdoor Classroom” to educate students about good nutrition and to provide a welcoming gathering place for students and the community. The Neighborhood Food Project is a grassroots effort to increase access to healthy food in four neighborhoods in Saint Paul: Dayton’s Bluff, Payne-Phalen, Thomas-Dale/Frogtown, and Summit-University. Dakota County Public Health Department – concerned because of a report published by the New England Journal of Medicine stating that, because of obesity, this generation of children could be the first in the history of the United States to live less healthful and shorter lives than their parents – worked with Wilder Research to conduct a series of focus groups with parents and caregivers of preschool children, and then implemented evidence-based programs in over 200 child care centers to improve nutrition and increase physical activity.

InCommons has begun to connect Minnesotans so they can find and share credible tools, knowledge and resources to solve community problems. Lessons learned in one community can become starting points for addressing similar issues in towns and cities elsewhere in the state. Through InCommons, strangers can become powerful allies in support of common endeavors.

The United States ranks above almost all developed countries of the world in rates of obesity for children and adults. These are rapidly increasing. (See ) Addressing obesity (and many other issues) requires community will and engagement, informed by solid information on community trends and on what interventions can work to push those trends in a positive direction. Working together, we can make a difference. I encourage you to join our virtual gathering on InCommons and add your voice to making our communities healthier. Join us at: