For those of you sad, sad folks without cable, HBO has a new documentary series called “Weight of the Nation” looking at the obesity epidemic. Newsweek promptly followed up with their own article arguing some counterpoints to the HBO series. Both were correct in their assessment, though Newsweek’s view was much narrower and incomplete, in my opinion. I highly suggest you take a look at both, especially if you have children or intend to in the near future.
Obviously as a personal trainer by trade, I ruminate on this subject quite a lot, but I tend towards thinking about it on a smaller scale: what can I do to help the individual I’m working with? What are his/her individual causes or triggers for weight gain? But now it’s on my mind on a larger scale, especially as tourists have been pointing out to me lately how active a city D.C. is.
Really? And I realize that having grown up in my Boulder bubble, my gauge of local activity level is a bit biased; nothing really ever compares. Though Colorado remains both the skinniest state in the nation and the one with the slowest growing obesity rates, Washington, D.C. apparently is a close second. Again, really? Then I think back to the tourists’ comments: “Wow, there are so many runners here. Are there usually this many people running on the National Mall?” Why, yes, yes there are. In fact running clubs are so hugely popular throughout the District-Virginia-Maryland area that they spawn clever t-shirts like “Virginia is for Runners.” The military has a hand in this as well, sponsoring events like the Marine Corps Marathon, the Army 10-Miler, and other races. We the people love to run.
Ah. Yes, another reason I love living in this city so much. I’ve written previously about the success of D.C.’s bike share program, and that’s just the people who use the program. Most of my friends not only own their own road bikes but actually use them daily, thanks to the vast abundance of commuter bike lanes the city has installed. In fact, I remember being somewhat disgruntled last weekend when I pulled up in front of a party and found I couldn’t find a parking spot for my bike. Every railing and sign post was already saturated with bikes.
But it’s not just running and biking. Our proximity to the Shenandoah mountains, and to some smaller lovely areas in between, makes hiking a popular weekend activity. Then of course there is the rowing culture, made popular by Georgetown and other prestigious universities in the area; the local leagues of kickball, softball, field hockey, and other teams; and the utilities and the free turf on the National Mall to sponsor games. And because the weather here is warm for most of the year, these activities happen virtually year round. Minus the hot months in July/August and maybe a little cold in January/February, D.C. has lovely outdoor weather the entire rest of the year.
I have yet to mention food. We have farmers markets in every neighborhood (which every big city has these days, I know), lots of CSA programs ( I did one myself two years ago when I had more time to cook), and restaurants dedicated to healthy eating. I asked my favorite neighborhood bar the other night for their late night food menu and was surprised to find roasted asparagus and baby bok choy were both being served along with the beer at 1 a.m. on Friday. Wow. One doesn’t need to resort to pizza and fast food for the late night munchie fix anymore – I can actually order veggies from the bar, and I did. I think back to my days in Minneapolis, where everything was casseroles and bad Swedish food. Yuck, and it was so cold that biking was only realistic a few months out of the year. At the time, I thought it was a crappy way to live, but I now realize that’s how most of the country is. Fatty casseroles and cars.
Of course, I am ignoring what may be the most important factor: rich white people. Poverty and access to affordable food is still the main issue America has in the fight against obesity. D.C. and Boulder have money and, more importantly, have the money to feed our kids properly both in school and out. We have good active programs that keep kids away from the crush of media telling them to eat crap, and we have them attending museums and fitness programs. Hurrah for my two favorite places on being leaders!