There was one session this weekend that reminded me of why I started blogging. It wasn’t to make friends. It wasn’t to make money. It wasn’t to amass as many readers as possible—it was to spread the message of how important it is to keep healthy. When I started blogging, a (very) healthy lifestyle was brand new to me, and I read and learned as much as I could and wanted to share that with others.
It’s no secret that we have an obesity epidemic on our hands in the United States, but I was unaware of quite the extent until I heard Shellie Pfohl’s keynote at the Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference on Friday. Pfohl was appointed by President Obama to serve as the executive director of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
Uh, but what is that, you ask?
The mission of the council is to “engage, educate and empower all Americans across the lifespan to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (PDF), nearly 74 percent of Americans are overweight (BMI between 25-30), obese (BMI between 30-40) or very obese (a BMI of 40+.) That means most Americans are overweight. If you’re at a healthy weight and you lead a healthy lifestyle and it feels like you’re in the minority sometimes, it’s because you are.
It’s because fitness has been “engineered out of our lifestyle,” says Pfohl. As a country, we are less active than ever.
What seems most troubling is the correlation between overweight children and low income. The closer a child’s family is to the poverty line, according to this CDC study, the more likely he or she is to be overweight. Why? If you follow a healthy lifestyle, you know why. It doesn’t always come cheap.
And in some low-income areas, it can be difficult to find fresh, nutritious food—even if you want to. These areas are called “food deserts,” and the CDC has a really cool tool (hello data visualization geek here) called the Food Desert Locator that shows you where these food deserts are. (Can we also get a dessert locator?;))
Here’s a snapshot of the entire country’s food deserts:
(Pretty troubling, if you ask me.)
And a snapshot of the D.C. area. As you can see, most of the food deserts are concentrated in the Southeast D.C. area and just outside of there—none in the affluent NW D.C. area.
Thankfully, our government is doing more than just making pretty maps showing us where the problems are. As part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, the proposed Healthy Food Financing Initiative will work to expand the availability of fresh food to these deserts by “developing and equipping grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores, and farmers markets with fresh and healthy food.”
Not only does poor childhood nutrition make it difficult for a child to develop a healthy lifestyle, studies have shown that poor nutrition is also linked to poor test scores, making it difficult to succeed at getting out of poverty.
So what can you do?
- Go to LetsMove.gov to join the mission to raise a healthier generation of kids by taking the pledge or finding a meetup in your area
- Go HealthFinder.gov to find health information from the National Health Information Center
- Join the President’s Challenge to live a healthier lifestyle (you can even get awards!)
- Go to Idealist.org to find health or nutrition volunteer opportunities in your area
As the co-chair of the New York Junior League’s external communications committee, I’d be remiss if I didn’t spotlight some of the work our amazing organization has done in the area of health outreach.
Our CHAMP (Community Health Access Module Program) develops and delivers preventative health education modules to the residents of at-risk and underserved communities; our Women’s Cancer Prevention Committee works to educate women about cancer and provide them with information about early detection and possible prevention of cancer; our Cooking and Health Education for Families committee educates adults and children on the value of good nutrition and exercise. Nationally, 200 Junior Leagues participate in the Kids in the Kitchen program, which teaches children about preparing healthy meals to educate them and their parents about the importance of making healthy choices.
What am I going to do to help continue to spread this message?
- Continue to blog about it. Pfohl cited a BlogHer study that 88 percent of blog readers trust the information they read from familiar blogs. With our reach as bloggers, that gives us tremendous responsibility to provide important and accurate information to our readers. (Pro tip: if you want to find a government study or site, add “site:.gov” to your search. For example, to find a government study on childhood nutrition, search “childhood nutrition site:.gov”)
- Find a way to volunteer to help underserved communities learn about nutrition. I have one more year serving in my current NYJL role(s) (I’m also joining a communications task force), and then I am going to join one of our health outreach committees.
What do you do to spread the message of health?