Fight to stay fit in Minnesota and Wisconsin an uphill climbFrom a walking and biking standpoint, the new Lincoln Park Middle School has an almost ideal location, transportation expert James Gittemeier said, between the two largest population areas on the west side of Duluth.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
From a walking and biking standpoint, the new Lincoln Park Middle School has an almost ideal location, transportation expert James Gittemeier said, between the two largest population areas on the west side of Duluth.
But, oh, that hill.
“Because of the hill, it’s an enormous challenge biking or walking to it,” said Gittemeier, transportation planner for the Metropolitan Interstate Commission, about the incline from Lincoln Park residential neighborhoods to the glittering new school on the ridge.
That challenge illustrates how difficult it can be to translate healthy-lifestyle policies into real life.
But the urgency of overcoming the obstacles was underscored on Tuesday by a new report about the nation’s obesity crisis.
The study, “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2012,” was released by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The researchers took obesity rates in the 50 states as of 2011, factored in demographic data and determined what we can expect by 2030 if changes aren’t made.
Among the conclusions:
“The future health and wealth of the nation are at stake,” said Michelle Larkin of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We can’t have a thriving nation without healthy people.”
But the study also offers an alternative outlook if we change course. With an average decrease of 5 percent of our body mass index, millions of people nationwide could avoid obesity-related illnesses, and the savings would be in the billions, it contends. Minnesota would save a cumulative total of $11.6 billion, or 7.3 percent, by 2030, the report says. Wisconsin would save $11.9 billion, or 7.4 percent.
Those numbers are attainable because a 5 percent reduction in body mass is achievable, Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health, said during an audio news conference on Tuesday.
“This isn’t a huge change in people’s lives,” Levi said. “We’re not talking about total transformation. We’re talking about how 20 minutes a day (of physical activity) makes a huge difference in people’s health trajectories.”
Slowly, that’s starting to happen in various places across the country, Larkin said. For example, many schools are introducing more nutritious foods and encouraging physical activity.
That includes the Duluth schools, spokeswoman Katie Kaufman said. Among other things, they’ve gotten rid of pop and candy in vending machines and installed fitness centers in middle schools and high schools.
Schools also are getting more bicycle-friendly, Gittemeier said, installing bicycle racks in highly visible locations. And he has worked with both Superior and Duluth schools to establish safe routes for walkers and bikers.
The new Lincoln Park Middle School is a particular challenge. Many Lincoln Park kids face that big climb, and kids from the Denfeld neighborhood are cut off by a chain-link fence on the west side of the school. That’s because trains carrying taconite use the tracks just west of the building. It probably would take a tunnel or a bridge to make that route safe, Gittemeier said.
There is access from Third Street that uses existing sidewalks and a newly paved trail. But the existing sidewalks are in poor condition, Gittemeier said, as are the streets in that area.
Efforts aren’t just geared toward schoolchildren. The Complete Streets resolution that the City Council passed in 2009 is designed to encourage walking, bicycling and use of mass transit, said Jim Skoog, St. Louis County public health educator. Because many streets have inadequate sidewalks or lack sidewalks, the network pedestrians can use to get around is incomplete. The idea is to complete the network, he said.
But specific projects have met resistance. The Glenwood Street project was approved on a 5-4 vote after residents objected to plans for sidewalks and bike lanes. But the council voted 5-4 against construction of new sidewalks on Ivanhoe Street, Skoog noted.
Body mass index
Body mass index is a measure of body fat based on health and weight. You can calculate your body mass index and find out if you’re underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.
Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.