National/Local Obesity Trends
According to CDC research, more than one third of U.S. adults and 17% of U.S. children are considered obese, with childhood obesity trends tripling in the past 30 years. These alarming trends are accompanied by heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, just to name a few. Arizona doesn’t seem to be doing any better. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately 62 percent of Arizona adults are considered overweight or obese with Arizona children trailing behind at about 31 percent.
Benefits of Physical Activity
Maintaining an active lifestyle improves overall health and reduces risk of many chronic diseases. It’s as simple as riding a bike, going for a swim or talking a walk. Often times we don’t think of these activities as exercise, but they help control weight, develop lean muscle and reduce body fat. Elementary and middle school-age children who walk to and from school are more physically active overall than those who travel to school by car. Adults who are active reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and foster improvements in mood and feelings of well-being. Active older adults have lower rates of coronary heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Studies show that adults 18-65 and older adults over the age of 65 need a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity five days a week. Children and adolescents need 60 minutes or more of physical activity each day.
Obesity does not discriminate based on age, race or gender, but it when it comes to those living under the poverty line or people of color, they are more likely to be categorized as obese. According to a USDA report, areas with limited access to healthy food options are often characterized by higher levels of racial segregation, greater income inequality or lack of public transportation.
SNAP vs. WIC
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides a monthly food allowance to low-income families. Originally known as the Food Stamp Program, the new name reflects the focus on nutrition and putting healthy food within reach for low-income households. However, the only items not allowed to be purchased include alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, and vitamins. Budget constraints often leave clients substituting healthy foods for those higher in sugar, fat and preservatives.
In converse, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides nutritious foods, nutrition education and referrals to health and social services to participants. WIC only serves low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, and infants and children up to age five who are at nutrition risk. Participants receive vouchers to purchase specific foods that include infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, fruits and vegetables and whole-wheat bread. In stark contrast, WIC educates participants to make healthier decisions, whereas SNAP only provides financial assistance to purchase food with little nutritional guidance.
SLHI, MTM, RWJF and Let’s Move, Heart and Soul
First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move, a comprehensive initiative dedicated to solving childhood obesity. Mrs. Obama’s mission is to change the way a generation of children thinks about food and nutrition through five simple steps to success. Locally in response to Mrs. Obama’s call, the Heart and Soul Initiative has taken steps to encourage community members to stay healthy, fit and strong. Over a six week period, participants in the Heart and Soul Let’s Move Initiative were asked to keep a daily log of activities. The commitment to healthy eating and active living also came with incentives to finish the program.
In addition to Let’s Move, Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), has a primary goal of implementing healthy eating and active living policy and environmental change initiatives. Fifty communities across the country, including one in our own backyard, are now funded to implement healthy eating and active living initiatives that support healthier communities for children and families.