Unhealthiest City in America

Courtesy of Flickr/Carl Sanford

Oh, Columbus. I love you so, even when you disappoint. Our fair city has the dubious honor of being ranked number four on Gallup’s list of least healthy cities in the U.S.

Here’s a USA Today snapshot of why that is:

  • Individuals in the Columbus metro area were among the nation’s most likely to suffer from recurring pain and a lack of energy.
  • Only 68.2% said their health allowed them to take part in age-appropriate activities, one of the lowest rates in the nation.
  • Columbus residents were among the least likely to eat healthy on a daily basis. Less than 60% of survey respondents said they ate healthy all day the previous day, worse than all but two metro areas reviewed.
  • Financial constraints explain poor eating habits more than any other factor. More than 20% of residents were on food stamps in 2012, and just 67.1% of residents told Gallup they were able to afford food at all times the year before — among the worst rate in the nation. By comparison, 80.9% of Americans reported sufficient resources for food.

Having gone on the Food Stamp Diet last year, I know with utter certainty that financial constraints lead to poor eating habits, and it’s unacceptable that so many of my neighbors can’t always afford food.

Let’s be honest, though. Some of the responsibility for bad health falls on us. I’ve seen many a co-worker choose to drive four blocks to lunch rather than walk. At restaurants, portion control is nonexistent. And we glorify cramming our lives with activities, giving no value to pausing for a healthy, home-cooked meal with our families.

We’re seeing the consequences of those actions, including a local obesity rate of 32.5%.

But this town is also full of beauty, kindness and creativity, and I’ll punch anyone who says otherwise. The solution has to be right in front of us.

So where do we start?

1. Keep an eye out for the recently formed Columbus Local Food Fund. Lead advisor Ben Link is looking for ways to support development of the local food system in Columbus, and his group will soon hold public surveys and forums to determine needs and resources. Help him make this happen.

2. Bring Wholesome Wave to Columbus. The mission of this non-profit is to double each federal or state nutrition benefit dollar spent at farmers markets. So at a market who’s partnered with Wholesome Wave, every one food-assistance dollar buys two dollars in produce.  Then bring together the Extension Office, Health Department, and anyone else with access to our at-risk, low-income community to get the word out.

3. Thanks to the Planning Department, Mayor Teresa Tomlinson,  and groups like Bicycle Columbus, our city council recently approved a Complete Streets policy. Which means bike lanes and other on-street facilities must be considered when new roads are constructed or old ones are paved. Columbus is blessed with bicycle amenities out the wazoo, so take advantage of them for commuting as well as for play. Make your voice heard at planning meetings and events like the Ride with the Mayor. And help advocates at the River Valley Regional Commission and Georgia Bikes make biking safe and accessible to everyone — no matter their income — to improve our health and the environment.

4. I challenge the Mayor to lead a city-wide Blue Zone-style initiative. The official rules say that 20% of residents, 25% of grocery stores, locally-owned restaurants and public schools, and 50% of the top twenty employers must sign up to make changes that encourage healthy living. But even without enough support for an official movement, we can each commit to improving our own lives — eat on smaller plates, start a walking or cycling group, volunteer for charity, and cook at home three nights a week (preferably with fresh, local food). You’ll be shocked at the big results from small changes.

Enough talk. Let’s get busy making our community better — and show the folks at Gallup what they can do with their poll.

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