From obesity to active living: HEALth for Downey

DOWNEY - Being fat is a luxury that's only been available to humankind for about a half century. It's a reflection of our wealth and excess in this country that the good ol' US of A is the fattest nation on earth. Yep, we're No. 1, as Stephen Colbert has sardonically noted.Dating from the 1960's--with Bill Cosby's invention of the character Fat Albert, and the late, lamented Allan Sherman's comedy routine entitled "Hail to Thee, Fat Person" (Sherman died from complications related to his own obesity), to Colbert's and others' contemporary satirizations of obesity and Fat Amy's indelible honesty in "Pitch Perfect," now in movie theaters--being fat is a touchstone of where we've come from and where we're going, a commentary on our era. But ultimately, this is not funny. According to Professor Ian Roberts, research leader for the report satirized by Colbert, North America, with only 6% of the world's population, accounts for 34% of the world's biomass due to obesity. Says Roberts, "Everyone accepts that population growth threatens global environmental sustainability - our study shows that population fatness is also a major threat. Unless we tackle both population and fatness our chances are slim." (Was Professor Roberts' closing pun intentional? You be the judge.) We've already reported here that over 40% of Downey children were determined to be overweight in 2010 by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, and that that figure is increasing at the significant rate of 1.4% annually. We've also pointed out that both Healthy Eating and Active Living are essential to controlling overweight and obesity, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Further, these two approaches form the acronym for the HEAL Cities Campaign, soon to be adopted by the City of Downey in order to address some of these issues in our town. So now we come to the nexus between Active Living and a healthy environment. As Professor Roberts posits above, obesity itself is detrimental to the environment. Conversely, Active Living, as represented in particular by bicycling and walking, is GOOD for the environment, first and foremost by reducing fossil fuel consumption, which not only decreases greenhouse gases, but also brings down air pollution. Secondly, active transportation--the umbrella term used by advocates of bicycling, walking and other forms of non-motorized transportation--reduces congestion, which further curtails fossil fuel consumption, but also mitigates the ever-increasing demand for vehicle infrastructure, with its nature-UNfriendly concourses of asphalt and concrete. On every side, the freeways which circumscribe the City of Downey give testimony to a relentless demand for highways. History shows that even the HOV lanes under construction for the I-5 near Downey will only temporarily check this insatiable appetite. Consider the numbers: there are now a billion vehicles worldwide, 250 million in the U.S., and over 7,000,000 registered motor vehicles in Los Angeles County--almost 3% of the U.S. total, and more than all but five states. Fortunately for Downey, our residential streets are uncrowded. But major thoroughfares through the city are bursting at the seams, and significant funds have been designated for street improvements. Lakewood and Firestone Boulevards are prime examples, with Lakewood nearing completion and Firestone just underway. The Firestone Boulevard improvements have been controversial because they increase the number of driving lanes to three lanes each direction at the expense of on-street parking, all to placate the gods of good traffic flow. In stark contrast--with the exception of a few lonely bicycle racks--the City of Downey has absolutely no bicycle infrastructure. So here we are, in a city rife with obesity (like the rest of the country) and crisscrossed by a transportation infrastructure heavily dependent on unhealthy and environmentally damaging fuel supplies. We need exercise and we need to use less gasoline. What can we possibly do? (Wink, wink.) . . . Heavens to Murgatroyd! (to quote Bert Lahr, channeled through Snagglepuss). WE COULD WALK AND BIKE! To school, to work, to shop, for fun. We can and must change our lives. More next time on how we can achieve these changes in Downey.

********** Published: October 18, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 27