At this time of year we often think about our health, and vow to do better next year. As a state, Florida could definitely do better. On health measures, Florida ranks 34th in the U.S. and Orange County ranks 17th out of 67 counties, according to the United Health Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, respectively. And sadly, nearly one out of every three children in our state is overweight or obese. Could that be changing?
For the first time in nearly 30 years, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report shows that childhood obesity rates are down. Researchers say it’s too early to tell if this is a trend or a positive aberration. Health advocates are cautiously optimistic.
Of course, a true reversal of the adult and childhood obesity epidemic will continue to take a prolonged and systematic focus — a critical part of the mission of Healthy Central Florida and our partners. This work involves changing policies and cultures where we live, learn, work and play. It involves leaders designing communities with pedestrians, cyclists and children in mind. The research is clear: environments impact behavior. Our goal is to make the healthy choice the easy choice in every environment.
Of course, it also takes moms and dads creating healthier environments at home. It’s not easy, but limiting screen-time, increasing active-time and sitting down for dinner time all have an enormous impact on a child’s health — and pants size. So, thank you to health-conscious moms and dads; and to Orange County Public Schools for removing soda from vending machines and offering healthier lunches. Thanks to local restaurants, from chains like Darden to single sites like the Powerhouse Café, for reducing sugar, salt and fat. And thanks to visionary employers and municipalities for adding proactive health programs, bike lanes, workout facilities and walking clubs or multi-purpose trails.
Creating healthy communities takes all of us working together — restaurants, employers, hospitals and schools working alongside parents. There’s never been a more important time to get healthy, or to connect with our children. Try it. Turn off the TV and play, go for a walk after dinner or join one of our community walking groups. Together, we can add Central Florida to the list of communities with healthier, happier children — and adults.
Note: This post appeared as a “My Word” column by Jill Hamilton Buss, executive director, of Healthy Central Florida, in the Orlando Sentinel on January 1, 2013.