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VIEWPOINT: Improving health: more than a January fad

January 21, 2008

As I waited in line at the cafeteria just into the new year, I watched the man in front of me. It would be easy to assume the salad and wrap station would provide patrons with a healthful lunch option. Yet I saw a generous portion of fried chicken in a spinach tortilla topped with a pile of cheese and several servings of salad dressing. The man might have started with good intentions, but in a matter of seconds a potentially healthful option transformed into another cholesterol-laden lunch.

You've heard it a million times-Americans are overweight. The media bombard us with sugar-filled cereal, candy marketed to match every holiday, and fast food that puts you on the fast track to extra pounds. While the underlying cause of our health woes is a topic worthy of another discussion, we must stop placing blame and instead work to fix the problem. Hoosiers, unfortunately, rank among the most obese in the nation (ninth) according to a study released by the Washington, D.C.-based Trust for America's Health.

Despite this dismal rating, Indiana has come a long way, if not in pounds shed or cigarettes left unlit, but in identification of the issue. I applaud the following steps to acknowledge this crisis and encourage Hoosiers to seek more healthful lifestyles.

The education initiative established by INShape Indiana fosters general awareness that we greatly need. This program has developed resources to encourage statewide participation in "smarter" eating, exercise and non-smoking initiatives at home and the workplace. The most recent campaign, the 10 in 10 Challenge, uses weekly e-mails about healthy eating and fitness tips to encourage Hoosiers to lose 10 pounds in 10 weeks.

Additionally, new tax benefits are available for small businesses that provide certified wellness programs for their employees. Businesses developing such programs support employees in lifestyle changes-weight management, stopsmoking initiatives and preventive health efforts-and receive tax credits in return.

State government offers similar benefits to employees through One Care Street, a health assessment and counseling program. Participants complete an online survey and set health-related goals in exchange for credit to their health insurance premiums. To maximize the reach and effect of the information, the employee and all family members covered by the plan must participate. Furthermore, health counseling is required of participants with higher risk factors before receipt of full benefits.

These creative solutions draw attention to the problem and reward those making positive changes, but the long-term impact on overall community health may be harder to quantify in the short term. Despite the powerful media presence and dollars behind these campaigns, the individual will of the community will dictate our success.

At this time of year, it is fashionable to diet and recommit to your health, but this year set a goal worth sticking to-something that will sustain your pledge beyond January and the lure of the break-room doughnut. The reward might be looking great in your favorite pair of jeans, providing a good example for your family, or even fulfilling your dream of completing the One America 500 Festival Mini-Marathon.

Business and individuals alike, take advantage of the many opportunities and resources available to help you achieve your health goals. Apply similar expectations and rewards to your peers, family and friends. Hoosiers, the ball is in your court to take ownership of your health.



Tanney is the Help America Vote Act education and outreach director in the Indiana Secretary of State's Office.
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