City task force fights obesity problem in Houston
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 22:09
Often called one of the fattest cities in America, Houston is now taking measures to get healthy. On Sept. 12, Mayor Annise Parker (Jones ’78) announced the creation of a new 22-person task force called Healthy Houston, which is designed to encourage exercise, lower obesity rates and promote healthy eating in the Houston area, according to a City of Houston press release.
The initiative will produce four ideas to be implemented dealing with promoting urban agriculture, making healthy and local foods more readily available, educating citizens on the risks of obesity and unhealthy lifestyles, and promoting physical activity programs. Parker said lowering obesity will have beneficial side effects.
“We know obesity is a significant health threat in our city,” Parker said in the press release. “We want to tackle this issue with innovative ideas and thinking to help Houstonians make smart decisions to lead healthy lifestyles, prevent problems before they occur, lower healthcare costs, and increase productivity and quality of life.”
The task force includes government officials, business owners and nonprofit representatives, according to the press release. City of Houston sustainability director and task force member Laura Spanjian said she is optimistic about the task force’s solutions.
“I think this is a great initiative, and the task force is going to come up with great, concrete, implementable ideas to get people to lead healthy lifestyles and get physical activity,” Spanjian said. “The task force is really action-oriented, and [we’re] really going to work on finding things [we] can implement in the Houston community.”
The 2010 Houston Area Survey conducted by Rice University sociology professor Stephen Klineberg showed that 28 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of kids age 15-18 and 29 percent of adults in Harris County were obese. Spanjian, who in her role as sustainability director educates citizens about eating healthily and locally, said she thinks Houston’s reputation as a fat city is overblown.
“I think it is a stereotype, and I think we have definitely gotten much better in [reducing] the number of obese citizens,” Spanjian said. “But we’re a very large city, a sprawling city, and people drive a lot. It’s not as easy to get around places without driving, so I think that can contribute [to the amount of obesity].”
Spanjian said she thinks making Houston more active during everyday activities will greatly help reduce obesity rates.
“I think encouraging alternative transportation is important,” Spanjian said. “When people walk to the bus or rail or they bike to work or they walk to work, those are great ways of getting physical activity every single day. The more we can encourage that and provide infrastructure and resources, the better.”
At Rice, the Rice Health Advisors also have a task force focused on body image and nutrition. Sid Richardson College sophomore and RHA Kate Travis, a member of the body image and nutrition task force, said the creation of task forces to fight health issues are important to Houston and Rice.
“Having students and the people of Houston be active and fit helps people do well in a lot of other areas,” Travis said.
“Having good physical wellness will, at Rice, help you do better academically, and it will increase your confidence, so I definitely support [these initiatives].”