Faced with Mounting Obesity, Some Cities Get Creative
> 6/16/2006 9:00:52 AM

In 2000 Men's Fitness magazine named Philadelphia the fattest city in the country. Mayor John Street, newly elected, found himself facing media criticism for which he hadn't been prepared. But as CNN reported as part of their "Fit Nation" series, Street saw this new criticism as a chance to get creative in solving the city's ballooning weight problems.

After appointing fitness guru Gwen Foster, the two unveiled their quirky plan to get Philly back into shape. Called "Health Journeys," the program makes use of lingo from the travel industry in getting Philadelphians off the couch, and making good decisions about eating right. Every activity or food choice has an assigned value of "frequent-activity" points, which can eventually be traded in for prizes. As CNN points out though, the real prizes are the positive health benefits enjoyed by those who have succeeded on Street and Foster's plan.

If we were to be completely honest, we'd have to say that the Health Vacation plan sounds convoluted and maybe even a bit silly. But, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding, and the fact that Philadelphia has seen improvements speaks volumes about the program's merits. Sometimes creative solutions that step outside the norm can have a greater impact than tried and true methods that eventually begin to fall of deaf ears. It would seem however, that Philly can't rest on its laurels. In Men's Fitness's 2005 survey Philadelphia climbed back to 2nd fattest city (up from 7th in 2004). Even if Health Vacations has been a success, it appears as if there is more ground to travel and more weight to lose.

Today's Washington Post offers another solution (via the AP) to fighting the obesity epidemic. James Sallis, a San Diego State University psychology professor, speaking at the American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting, declared that the only way we're going to truly combat our problem is to stop designing our neighborhoods and cities to cater to our sedentary lives.

For evidence of his assertion, Sallis points to Denver's Stapleton development, a decade old community of homes, shops and offices. Designers of Stapleton wanted it to be a community where folks felt they didn't need to drive everywhere, so they created wide sidewalks and many meandering paths. The results, they say, have been happier, healthier residents.

Sallis's is a vision of grass roots development to fight obesity. If we attack the problem, literally at its roots, and encourage people to simply walk, ride and run more instead of climbing into a car to get around, we will begin to see results. Stapleton is a shining example, but as the WaPo mentions, getting government funding for these kinds of projects isn't easy, which means that private developers will have to appeal to homeowners desire to change. As with any of our efforts to cut down on obesity, this is only one approach, and with Philadelphia as a worthwhile example, sometimes we see that a multifaceted and creative approach is the only kind that will work.


I like your BMI graph, but I am guessing that you didn't seperate between men and women. I am 5'9" and 145, which for men is just between healthy and underweight. My body fat is about 3%, and I don't see how I could loose any weight, or want to. But putting the lower limit at 125 for 5'9" may encourage some male to loose more weight, which could be dangerous. Obviously since most people are fighting weight gain this probably not a huge problem, but it should be pointed out.
URL: http://drforbush.blogspot.com
Posted by: Dr. Forbush 6/16/2006 5:09:45 AM

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