Shrinking America’s Waistline: The Economic and Social Benefits of Lifestyle Changes
A combination of healthy foods and regular exercise will add years to your life. That is what the experts have been saying for years. And yet, their warnings and words of encouragement continue to fall on deaf ears. America is still fat and getting fatter, diabetes and heart disease are still among the top killers in the country, and French fries keep on selling at an alarming rate. McDonald’s alone sells over 3 billion servings of fries annually or nearly ten servings per person in the United States every year.
In 2008, 25% of adults in thirty-two states were obese. In six of those states, over 30% of adults were obese. In all, approximately 64% of Americans fall into the overweight category. Obesity is a leading cause of many chronic and often fatal health problems and diseases. The fatter America gets, the more it is going to pay for health care and insurance. It is not only a wellness issue; it is an economic disaster. In the United States, health care costs are over one third more for overweight and obese individuals than for people of normal, healthy weight, adding over $730 to yearly medical expenses for each American.
Although the government is fully aware of the high health, economic and social costs of an overweight nation, its hands are tied when it comes to doing anything about it. At the most basic level, obesity and the decision to lose weight are individual choices. All the scary fat facts and government funded fitness programs will be worthless until Americans decide to get busy with the business of getting fit.
The Vitality Project
The residents of Albert Lea, Minnesota have addressed the problem of obesity as a community with a city wide effort dubbed the Vitality Project. About 2,300 residents of this Mid-Western town have increased their life span by an estimated 3.1 years. To make it happen, the city rushed through a five year sidewalk and bicycle path building project to make exercise easier for the 18,000 residents. Schools organized walking buses so that children could safely walk to and from school. Employers began giving workers time off to exercise, and people started walking to and from work.
The town’s radical lifestyle change also included nutritional choices. Fatty snacks and sweet treats were replaced with fruits and vegetables. People ate less fast food; many gave up red meat, while others went entirely vegetarian or vegan. Most importantly, the people worked together to lose weight and become healthier.
The Vitality Project in Albert Lea is a model of what can happen when a group of people come together to implement healthy change. People lost weight, and as a result feel better and will live longer. They will spend less on health care and lose fewer work days to illness. Children were taught the importance of healthy nutrition and regular exercise. If the pattern continues, these kids will lead healthier, more productive adult lives, and most likely raise healthier children themselves. Each of them will decide, as we all do, whether or not to continue with their new lifestyles. For Albert Lea, the decision to shed pounds and get fit is a community supported project that will benefit the health, social structure and economy of the community well into the future.