Heal Cities campaign for a healthier Downey

DOWNEY - Last week at its regular meeting City Council agreed to bring the HEAL Cities Campaign to Downey. Participation was urged by Councilman Fernando Vasquez, and Council member Mario Guerra, next year's presumptive mayor, gave assurances of his support of the program, including the development of bike lanes within the City of Downey. A unanimous procedural vote then moved Council towards the adoption of the campaign in December, after city staff have done the necessary background work and have prepared an appropriate resolution."HEAL" stands for "Healthy Eating Active Living," and the program's primary goal is to stem the rising epidemic of obesity. While this column typically addresses environmental issues, there are some fundamental correlations between the health of our nation's citizens and the health of its environment. So it's important to examine the background for HEAL Cities, which is one of a number of increasingly visible efforts to bring widespread obesity under control. Another such program is "Let's Move," first lady Michelle Obama's initiative to increase healthy living, in conjunction with the Partnership for a Healthier America. National Walk to School Day and its newborn cousin Bike to School Day, as well as Bike to Work Day (for you grownups), begun back in 1956, round out additional endeavors designed to educate and re-educate us to eat better and be more active. Here's how the Let's Move website expresses the problem: "The threat of childhood obesity to the health of our children and the health of our nation has never been greater. Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled. Today, almost one in every three children in our nation is obese or overweight. The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40% of the children are overweight or obese. If we don't solve this problem, one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. Many others may face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma." This is scary stuff. But there's more: both snacking and portion sizes have increased to the point where we're now eating 31 percent more calories than we did forty years ago. The average American now eats fifteen more pounds of sugar a year than in 1970. In California specifically, according to the HEAL Cities resolution, more than half of adults are overweight or obese, one in four children age 9-16 is overweight, and children are now being diagnosed with weight-related diseases previously found only in adults. Moreover, today's generation of children "are expected to have shorter lives than their parents due to the consequences of obesity." And we haven't even begun to speak of the declines in physical activity: forty years ago 41% of students got to school by biking and walking. Now it's 13%. Forty years ago about 86% of students who lived less than a mile away from school walked to school. Today it's less than 50%. Forty years ago 20% of students commuted to school by private car. Now it's 55%. Today children and youth between 8 and 18 spend 7.5 hours per day on front of electronic media. Furthermore, the annual cost to California resulting from these issues exceeds $41 BILLION in "medical bills, workers compensation and lost productivity." We have described part of the problem. What about a solution? Well, for starters, this past Wednesday well over 3,000 schools celebrated the sixteenth National Walk to School Day, encouraging students and their parents to develop safe and healthy ways to get to school. At the time of this writing, 437 events had been registered in the state of California. Sadly, none of these took place in Downey, although six schools in Compton participated, and an impressive 25 public and private schools in Glendale took part. This represents only the beginning of what can be done, not only nationally, but in our own community. In our next column we'll look further into the opportunities that present themselves for a healthier more active style of living in the City of Downey, in particular as it relates to bicycling.

********** Published: October 4, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 25