June 24, 2005
Our mission: Assuring the conditions so that people are able to be healthy.
On Wednesday, Richard Jackson, MD, MPH, California's State Public Health Officer spoke in Stanislaus County about the impact urban planning has on our community’s health. Eighty percent of Stanislaus County is classified as “urban��?. The population of our county now exceeds 500,000. Dr. Jackson asked the question: how are we managing our wealth? Supersizing was the answer. We supersize our homes. Families with one child have a 3000 sq ft home with little to no yard as opposed to 40 years ago when a household of 11 resided in a 900 sq ft home on the same size (or bigger!) lot. We supersize our cars which waste more fuel and make more noise. We supersize our highways and travel more miles/year and spend more time in the car than ever before. What is the quality of life for a person who commutes 2 hours to and from work each day? Is the drive stressful? Does he smoke to relieve that stress? Does he spend time with his family? Does he go to his children’s ball games or is he involved in cub scouts? Does he fit exercise into his day? Does he grab a meal-to-go on the way home? We supersize our food portions. Which fast food company can make the biggest burger and fill up the biggest cup of soda? If our pasta bowl was continuously refilled without us knowing, how would we know to stop eating? Even our plates are bigger than they were 30 years ago!
Children immerse themselves in their environment. They have ten times the number of neurons firing in their head as adults do. Every second they’re learning something new. What’s the attention span of a 2 year old? They learn the English language in a matter of 2 years. Today, kids suffer from what Dr. Jackson likes to call Nature-Deficit Disorder. They’re depressed, bored, and lack social contact. They spend more time indoors watching television, playing video games and playing on the computer than ever before. Physical Education classes are the first to be cut out of children’s school days when money gets tight. No wonder 75% of 5th, 7th, and 9th graders in California can not pass the state fitness test. Kids are inside, sitting at desks, in the control of their teacher. Ritalin consumption among kids is at its highest level and continues to rise. Did you know that exercise works just as effectively as Zoloft in treating depression?
What can we do? Our goal as public health professionals is to provide an environment where people have the ability to lead a healthy life. Consider this…what if we spent money to build bike paths and walking paths as opposed to 35,000 new homes as close together as possible? Why are we buying cheap land miles from our neighborhoods to build schools on and spending thousands of dollars per child to bus or drive them to school? How many children today are able to walk or bike to school? How many walking schoolbusses are there in Stanislaus County? What if schools invested in school gardens where kids can learn, have fun, co-operate with classmates, exercise and enjoy healthy food all at the same time? Who uses the dark, smelly, scary staircases at work which may or may not have access at every floor? What if we designed architecturally stylish, open staircases for workers to use to get from one floor to the next? What if we were satisfied with standard portions at restaurants? Would we still be served quality food, enjoy the company of those we are with, celebrate an occasion and not have to clean the dishes? Is the amount of food really the reason why we are at the restaurant? One idea that is in the works is taxing foods which contain high fructose corn syrup. The money will then be used to start working on some of the above thoughts to help make a healthier environment for our community. Of course our culture is in for a change as well. We need to have safe routes to school. Parents need the security of knowing their kids are safe at the playground down the road. We need to use the bike/walking paths and stairways. We need to frequent restaurants serving healthier options and not complain about portion sizes. This isn’t easy and it won’t happen overnight. However, every small step leads us closer to our goal.
Posted by Lisa at June 24, 2005 12:13 PM
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