• We didn’t get to the point where approximately 7-in-10 Americans are either overweight or obese overnight; Alabama is ranked among the worst of states. We won’t solve this challenge overnight, either. Creating a healthier community, state and nation will take sustained effort. That, in no small part, is why The Star is calling this project “Our Big Problem.”
• Miriam Gaines, director of the state Obesity Task Force, suggested the best place to make changes is locally. Face it, Montgomery doesn’t appear to have the political will to get serious about Alabama’s weight problem. A one-size-fits-all approach from the federal government will only get us so far.
However, at the local level counties and cities can take steps that would be felt almost immediately. They could make sure kids have safe places to play. They could redesign roads so that walkers, runners and cyclists could safely share them with automobiles.
• Gaines gave perhaps the night’s most interesting factoid. Alabama public schools are in the process of phasing out deep fryers from lunchroom kitchens. If a school’s fryer breaks down, public dollars can’t be spent to replace it, according to Gaines.
• The other new concept introduced by Gaines was a “road diet.”
“The road diet approach involves narrowing travel lanes or shoulders or eliminating some of them to provide more space for pedestrians and bicyclists,” according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s website. “A typical road diet consists of converting a four-lane roadway (two in each direction) to a three-lane (one in each direction plus a center turn lane) and adding sidewalks and/or bicycle lanes.”
The DOT and road diet advocates point to statistics showing these changes can lead to fewer accidents. That said, road diets have been controversial, especially among commuters who have no intention of getting out of their cars.
• Here’s a thought, one perhaps well-suited for this August’s municipal elections. What if candidates for office were willing to take walking tours of various neighborhoods? Everyone would be welcome, from runners and bikers to folks who prefer a casual stroll. The candidates could hear from neighborhood residents. Folks from other parts of town could get to know their fellow residents better. And, just maybe, in those parts of town where sidewalks are in short supply, a consensus can be reached about making streets safer for non-motorized traffic.
• Messaging was an oft-repeated theme Thursday. The dominant signals Americans typically hear go something like this: 1. Stay on the sofa, preferably in front of a TV or computer screen. 2. Hey, you need something to eat; here, have this processed thing filled with sugar and/or fat. 3. Don’t get up and exercise, it’ll only make you feel bad.
We can scarcely avoid these messages. They are everywhere. On our TVs. On our computers. Even as we drive down the road and our senses are bombarded with restaurants offering inexpensive food that comes in large portions.
Several participants in Thursday’s meeting mentioned offering an alternative message, one that encourages good behavior, personal responsibility and wise choices.
Here’s a suggestion, based on comments from the meeting: 1. Think about what you are eating or serving to your kids. 2. Think about the long-term consequences of eating it. 3. Exercise doesn’t have to equal pain. Start slowly and socially. There’s no shame in an adult adding “play” to their routine. 4. These changes are not something special, a temporary habit to help you feel better for a brief time. This is your new routine. Do it right and chances are you’ll enjoy it for a good long time.
Bob Davis is editor of The Anniston Star. Contact him at 256-235-3540 or email@example.com. Twitter: twitter.com/EditorBobDavis