EDITORIAL: Residents’ health a weighty issue

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The projections released last month by Trust for America’s Health were sobering: By 2030, more than half of Hoosiers will be obese.

Not big boned or corn fed or any of the other euphemisms we use to make ourselves feel better about our broadening horizons—obese. As in fat. And since healthy residents are a key component of healthy communities, that possibility should prompt us all to step away from the fried tenderloin.

It’s no secret that Americans are fighting our own battle of the bulge. More than a third of us are considered obese now, and federal health officials predict the national rate will rise to 42 percent over the next two decades.

And we all know that health care costs are rising along with our weight, not surprising given the link between obesity and a range of chronic diseases from diabetes to arthritis.

The economic implications also are clear, as guest columnist Ed Morrison pointed out in IBJ last week.

“Our competitiveness is directly tied to our productivity,” wrote Morrison, an adviser at the Purdue Center for Regional Development. “And our productivity is directly tied to the health of our work force.”

Concern about the potential repercussions of the obesity epidemic has started to influence public policy in Indianapolis and beyond. In August, city leaders passed the so-called “Complete Streets” ordinance, which calls for roads to be designed with walkers and bicyclists in mind. And one of the goals of the two-year Indy Rezone initiative is to “create and protect neighborhood centers that are compact, healthy, safe, active and pedestrian-friendly.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken even bolder action, most recently pushing to ban the sale of large sugary drinks in the city. In 2006, he set out to require restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus.

Although we agree with critics who accuse Bloomberg of overstepping his bounds and running a “nanny state,” it’s increasingly clear that it is going to take an outside force to save us from ourselves. The stakes are too high for our elected officials to simply close their eyes and hope for the best.

“Complete Streets” is a good start, and we applaud local leaders for moving forward with the idea despite legislators’ lack of interest in similar proposals at the state level. Communities design infrastructure to support business all the time, so why not make it easier for residents to get moving, too?

Government can help us get started, but we have to take the next steps ourselves—quite literally. Walking paths and bike lanes are worthless if we only see them on the way to the nearest drive-through.

So hang up the car keys, dust off the running shoes, and say no to that second piece of pumpkin pie. Indiana’s future depends on it.•


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