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Building a healthier America

Carole Carson is the author of From Fat to Fit: Turn Yourself into a Weapon of Mass Reduction and the national coach for the AARP Fat 2 Fit online community. Visit www.fromfat2fit.com for more information.

Raising healthy communities

Today more young adults ages 20 to 45 are suffering disabling strokes. Almost six million hospitalizations each year are due to cardiovascular disease. Health experts report an epidemic of diabetes among children and teens. These and other alarming trends are the result of a harsh reality: two-thirds of American adults and one-third of American children are overweight or obese.

Obese woman exercising

Obesity is costly

These impersonal statistics quickly become personal when we realize that obesity plays a significant role in causing poor health. Obesity also thins our wallets. Private health insurance spending since 1987 on obesity-related medical problems has increased tenfold.

The future of our nation's health

We worry about what the statistics portend for ourselves and our families. Will this overweight population be increasingly subject to predictable, lifestyle-induced medical conditions such as diabetes, stroke, cancer and heart disease? Can we reverse the trend?

In the face of this impending tsunami of illness and expense, each of us is compelled to do our part.

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

Chef Jamie Oliver is doing his part by working to change the eating habits of school children in Huntington, West Virginia, in his weekly reality television program, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Jamie wants us to be as outraged as he is that our overweight children cannot expect to live as long or as well as their parents.

Our exclusive interview with Jamie Oliver!

A Healthier America campaign

The American Public Health Association is also taking the lead by declaring A Healthier America: One Community at a Time its theme for National Public Health Week (April 5-11).

Get involved in your own community

If you have the skills and are willing to become a general contractor, you can play a role as well. You don't have to wait for Jamie Oliver to intervene in your town. Instead, you can begin today to construct a life-altering community event that will encourage individuals to adopt healthier habits and, as a by-product, lose surplus pounds. In the process, you'll make new friends, form partnerships with people from all walks of life and reinforce the unity in community.

Fat to fit programs

In 2004, a few of us pioneered the concept of community weight-loss programs by creating the Nevada County Meltdown, an eight-week program during which over a thousand neighbors and friends lost nearly four tons of surplus weight. The ideas, instructions and sample forms are captured in The Fat to Fit Meltdown Manual.

The program is based on three key principles (FIT):

  • F: Focus on fun. Creating the event needs to be as much fun for organizers as it is for participants. Contributing to others will help you stay in touch with your vision, and the experience will lift the spirits of participants.
  • I: Innovate and improvise. Every community and every individual is unique: one size will not fit all. To achieve maximum impact, your program must be relevant, timely and tailored to your community, and the content must be responsive to the particular needs of the individuals.
  • T: Team up. Everyone needs to participate: medical experts, media, fitness clubs, food markets, hospital personnel, employers, government officials, educators, religious leaders, employees and family members. The goal is promoting community-wide fitness for everyone.

Organizing a group intervention around these three principles to promote healthier lifestyles and appropriate weight involves education and skill building. Leaders who step forward to create events quickly discover others who are willing and eager to contribute their talents and expertise toward a common goal—helping members of the community and each other lead healthier lives.

Community weight-loss programs

In the past few years, over 300 community weight-loss events have occurred in communities across the United States. For example, Marge Delozier organized a spring 2010 community weight-loss program in Lewistown, Pennsylvania. With the project in its fourth week, Marge says, "We are all so excited. It has been a great exercise in pulling talents from the whole community. If anyone is thinking about creating an event, just do it!"

We are at a crossroad. We can view obesity as an overwhelmingly intractable program and throw in the towel. Or, like Marge Delozier, we can take concrete, practical actions to help our neighbors and friends adopt healthier lifestyles and lose those surplus pounds.

Just do it

When you step forward in this way, I can assure you that, just as our Nevada County Meltdown did, your actions will reverberate beyond your community's borders and touch people's lives in ways you will never know.

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