American Cities Fighting Obesity

It doesn't take a statistician to see America's growing obesity problem. Children and adults alike are eating more, gaining weight, and weight-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease are on the rise. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIH), more than 2 in 3 adults and more than 1 in 3 children/adolescents are overweight or obese. And that's just the data from 2010.

Despite the best efforts at the federal level, our country's greatest epidemic continues to move forward. Programs like Choose My Plate and federal regulations on school lunches are a fine effort to fight obesity, but many cities and states are growing tired of waiting for the solution and taking matters into their own hands.

As communities continue to work together and search for solutions, they might look to these cities leading the charge (or testing the waters with mistakes) in the fight against obesity.

Boulder, Colorado

Since Colorado is America's healthiest state (lowest obesity rate), Boulder has the advantage to get out in front of the problem and maintain its status as America's fittest city. Boulder has a natural advantage for healthy residents — it's home to hiking, cycling, climbing and other outdoor activities — but city hall doesn't leave it all to chance. The city's public health department works with local child care centers to ensure children have healthy snacks and meal options, and the community heavily supports local foods and farm-to-table restaurants.

Boulder is also home to several non-profit organizations that specialize in healthy food choices and active lifestyles. Any city that wants to squash its rising obesity rates should look to Boulder as a shining example.

Houston, Texas

Sometimes programs aimed to fight obesity can look good on paper, but miss key demographics when put into practice. Houston also has a culture for good food and a sprawling infrastructure which involves little to no daily walking. The largest city in Texas has many programs and incentives in place, but obesity is still rising in women and minorities, exposing a cultural gap in its efforts.

However, the city does recognize its shortcomings and is doubling down on efforts to ensure these programs reach everyone equally. Can Do Houston strives to prevent and reduce childhood obesity, specifically by encouraging physical activity and nutrition in schools, and building strategic partnerships with Houston Food Policy and the city park system. Since Houston is an more affordable city compared to Boulder or healthier west coast communities, it's an attractive place for families in search of a healthier lifestyle.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Boulder may be America's fittest city, but it started out on top. What about a city that had to crawl its way out from the bottom. When it comes to America's least healthy cities, Oklahoma City ranked at the top of the list. In a culture famous for barbecue and a sprawling urban environment, residents eat a lot and walk very little.

But Oklahoma's capital recently declared a "war on fat," and is now allocating tax dollars to redesign the city to create a more walkable environment for the people who live downtown. And everyone living outside in the suburbs will have access to new gyms at schools, new and renovated recreational centers, and increased spending in health education for children. Now that Oklahoma City is serious about change (and serious about spending money), we should see positive changes in the next several years.

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