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Make the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice

May 17, 2011
  • More than 60 percent of New Jersey’s adults and 31 percent of young people between the ages of 10 to 17 are overweight or obese, according to the most recent state and national surveys.
  • In 2008, New Jersey spent $2.2 billion on obesity-related health care, according to a report by the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention. Complications of obesity can be life-threatening and include heart disease, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers and premature death.
  • The 2001 National Household Travel Survey reported that 48 percent of trips taken in metropolitan areas are for distances of less than three miles, and 28 percent for less than one mile. Yet despite these ideal biking/walking distances, the survey found that 65 percent of trips of less than one mile are taken by car.

Biking, Walking Will Improve Your Health … and New Jersey’s

American society has become “obesogenic,” according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is, our physical, social and economic environments make it easy for us to consume lots of calories, but much more difficult to burn them off.

On the one hand, drive-through fast-food outlets, abundant convenience stores, vending machines and constant advertising for fatty, sugary foods and sugar-sweetened drinks all combine to make unhealthy food the easy choice. At the same time, the automobile-dependent design of many communities makes it nearly impossible to get regular physical exercise by walking or biking between common destinations like school, work or even the gym. 

Our environment—physical, social and cultural—affects our daily behavior. If we want to encourage healthy choices every day about eating and physical activity, we need environments where such choices are available, affordable and easy.

To help enable these healthy environments, New Jersey Future signed on as a partner to ShapingNJ, a public-private partnership of more than 150 organizations across the state. Coordinated by the Department of Health and Senior Services’ Office of Nutrition & Fitness, ShapingNJ is charged with addressing the obesity epidemic through policy and environmental change. The partnership’s vision is to “make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Specific strategies to address the obesity epidemic through environmental change include:

  • promoting land-use patterns that encourage the creation of neighborhoods where people can walk or bike to daily destinations, such as schools and shops;
  • creating or enhancing places for physical activity by designating walking or biking trails to scenic or local destinations;
  • encouraging active recreation by locating basketball courts, soccer fields, playgrounds and other venues in well-lit, safe, accessible parts of the community; and
  • enacting traffic-calming along routes to school, recreation areas and other destinations.

One easy way to get active is to change our travel behavior, particularly this month during Bike Month. Riding a bicycle or walking represents an affordable and convenient way to get around, particularly for short distances, and travel by bike or foot can help get your heart rate up. It can improve the overall health of our state as well. The largest source of air pollution in New Jersey is automobile emissions; we can all make a contribution to breathing cleaner, healthier air by walking or biking more and driving less.

The League of American Bicyclists recently ranked New Jersey the eighth most “Bicycle Friendly State” and bestowed a “Bronze Award” on the Garden State for its policies. If enough of us are inspired during Bike Month to toss down the car keys and make our next trip out of the house a healthier one, New Jersey might be rewarded by turning that bronze to silver or gold—and each of us will be making a personal contribution to making New Jersey a healthier state.

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