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Fattest to fittest country?
Five billion dollars in medical costs from a mushrooming obesity epidemic and Health Minister, Dr Fuad Khan, blames the public.
In part, rightly so, considering we were ranked as the fifth fattest nation in the world by the Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2013 and citizens need to assume responsibility for themselves. However, this is too serious a problem to be a blame game. It is a battle to be fought on all fronts by a unified army of Government and public citizens alike. I wrote recently about the individual’s role in the prevention of obesity, which Dr Khan so vehemently emphasized in a previous article in the Trinidad Guardian for which he and Dr David Bratt were interviewed. Now let’s talk about Dr Bratt’s point of view…the Government’s responsibility.
I want to use a recent TED Talk to highlight the role of leaders in the fight against obesity. TED Talks (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a series of conferences that discuss “Ideas Worth Spreading” in science, culture and innovation. In this particular Talk, Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City (OKC) described how he motivated the city to lose one million pounds.
Before Mayor Cornett took charge, Oklahoma City was a lot like T&T. It was on the list of the fattest cities in America, just as we are one of the fattest countries in the world. Like many of our government ministers, he was also overweight. He wanted to lose the weight, and challenged OKC to lose weight with him, setting a goal for the city to lose 1,000,000 pounds. Both the mayor and the city met their goals. Here is where Oklahoma City and its leader become very different from T&T and its government. Mayor Cornett led by example.
We’ve heard of Dr Khan’s Fight the Fat Campaign, but we haven’t heard enough. The media’s response to Mayor Cornett’s challenge was huge. The concept went viral and opened up conversations among people. Companies, schools, families and institutions organised activities and spaces within their micro structures to encourage weight loss. In T&T we already have conversations about obesity, but as usual, it’s more talk than action. So we need to look elsewhere for motivation.
Mayor Cornett examined the culture and infrastructure of Oklahoma City and implemented a health plan specific to its needs. OKC had been built around the car. People drove everywhere. Many areas had no sidewalks. Cornett changed legislature to encourage walkability in the city, to make it enjoyable to walk around. OKC added miles of well-built, landscaped sidewalks. They returned to areas where the town had built libraries, schools and neighbourhoods, but had not connected them with sidewalks, and introduced such infrastructure. OKC is currently building senior wellness centres, and creating inner city programmes for children to become more engaged in healthy recreational activities. They have even narrowed the streets to make them safer for pedestrians to cross. They have redesigned the city around people rather than cars.
In his interview, Dr Bratt mentioned creating tax breaks for companies that bought exercise equipment and the promotion of exercise in the workplace. But for those who are not fortunate enough to work for such companies and must rely on their surroundings, improving the walkability of our towns can greatly assist. Making parts of the city pedestrian only will not just serve to encourage walking, but will decrease the congestion and pollution. Creating bike lanes may allow people to feel safe to ride to their destinations. Improving the safety of recreational areas such as Chaguaramas and Lady Chancellor Hill will motivate more people to exercise independently. Finding ways of encouraging people to walk or ride rather than drive can promote active lifestyles.
Discounting flour and oil perpetuates our problem. Rather, such incentives need to make nutritious food more available, and fast food more expensive and less accessible to the consumer.
I challenge our leaders to not only set an example themselves by losing some of their parliamentarian weight, but also to examine T&T’s culture and infrastructure, and to make unique changes, radical as they might be. I also challenge the citizens to embrace those changes and do their part. OKC went from one of the fattest to one of the fittest cities in America through a team effort. Can we at least get off the “fat list”?
Carla Rauseo, DPT, CSCS is a doctor of physical therapy and a certified strength and conditioning specialist at Total Rehabilitation Centre in San Juan