Our view: We can win the war on obesity
September 27, 2012
Wisconsin Rapids Tribune
OK, so the fact that we have an obesity problem — “we” meaning the U.S., Wisconsin or Wood County, take your pick — is not exactly breaking news. The latest evidence came in the form of a new report released by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showing that by 2030, more than half of Wisconsinites will be obese.
We’ve seen the trends. What we need to do now is to take some concrete steps to reverse them.
Gannett Central Wisconsin Media, with the 12 for ‘12 health campaign we’ve had going on all year, wants to play a role in helping move us in the right direction. We liked the audacity of the goal laid out in July by the Marathon County Board to make it the healthiest county in Wisconsin. Can Wood County or Adams County answer that challenge?
If we’re going to get there, our entire community is going to have to adopt the mission of getting healthier.
Policies and even things like County Board resolutions matter. But obesity is not the sort of problem that will be solved mainly through public policy. It has a lot to do with culture, and like other cultural issues, it takes a big, multi-pronged approach.
• We need community leadership and models of success. That may be as simple as emulating the habits of a healthy neighbor or friend, or working with others to provide accountability in your own health journey. And it may mean looking to other communities who have had public health success.
• We need education. It’s a myth that you can’t eat healthily without spending a lot of money. But people need to learn how to eat healthy — and that means not just learning the facts about nutrition but also learning how not to eat to relieve stress or as a reward. We’re all guilty of these habits. It takes education and a concerted effort to change them.
• We need to teach our kids the value of exercise, and observe it in our own lives. That means limiting TV and videogame time (for grown-ups as well as kids), getting outdoors and getting active.
Here’s the good news: This is a fight we can win. Consider the prevalence of smoking 20 or 30 years ago. People smoked cigarettes in their offices, in college classrooms, in restaurants, on planes and on television. Today we have none of that, and smoking rates have never been lower.
What changed? Well, some laws changed, like Wisconsin’s statewide workplace smoking ban. Certainly people are better-educated about the risks and dangers of smoking than they once were. There are more resources for smoking cessation.
But perhaps the most important change had to do with social norms, social pressures. Smoking stopped being cool, and it stopped being normal. As a result, fewer young people are starting today on the path to the destructive addiction.
We can make the same change when it comes to obesity. Sure, we love rich foods here in Wisconsin. We can love them in smaller quantities. We make the culture, and we can change it.
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