Tucson VISTA Member Melanie Perten is creating opportunities for low-income individuals (and everyone else in the Tucson community) to join together in pursuing adequate nutrition and opportunities for physical activity.
As the ‘obesity epidemic’ in our country skyrockets, public health professionals nationwide are jumping into action. Obesity interventions carried out by non-profits, government agencies, and activists can be categorized into two primary schools of thought: those targeting poor consumption patterns (e.g., overeating and eating foods with poor nutritional quality), and those targeting sedentary lifestyles. Both categories of intervention are crucial as we strive to reduce weight gain and improve health in America.
As an AmeriCorps VISTA at Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild’s office, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to spearhead both types of interventions from a position of local government. This unique position allows me to design programs, support organizations in our local and regional public health communities, and explore the role of local government in this national public health crisis. Identification of poor consumption patterns as a key contributor to weight gain lends itself to several different types of intervention plans. We see educators working to teach community members how to select foods with a higher nutritional value and how to limit portion size. In addition, we see advocates working to increase the affordability of fresh foods in low-income neighborhoods, and grocers opening stores in communities severely lacking access to fruits and vegetables. In the mayor’s office, I am working to target these low-income neighborhoods that have low access to fresh produce. In collaboration with local nonprofits such as the Food Bank, I strive to identify methods to infuse healthy foods in these “food deserts.” Once several key methods and partnerships are identified, the mayor will be able to draw public attention to the problem and use our ‘solution’ to encourage folks to engage in healthier behaviors. Of course, there will be no black and white solution, but it is our hope to create a program that can help alleviate the problem.
On the other side of the coin are sedentary lifestyles. Not only does physical inactivity result in weight gain, but it also can cause muscle deterioration, and your muscles are helpful agents in fending off obesity. In the age of the automobile, the general public does not walk or bike nearly as much as it used to. Educators working on interventions targeting sedentary lifestyles promote physical activity at every turn, suggesting opportunities to go to the gym or walk outside. At the mayor’s office, a program called Tucson Moves a Million Miles has been created to encourage city-wide physical activity. The goal is for the entire city to log minutes/miles of physical activity, and to collectively move one million miles. The City also puts on a series of physical activity events that provide folks opportunities to be active. I am in charge of designing and promoting these events, giving me the chance to create a space where people will feel comfortable and excited to be active. The next event will be this Sunday, October 26, and is a 2.5 mile walk with the mayor along the historical Turquoise Trail in downtown Tucson.
Of course, it is not just up to the Mayor’s office and me – we need your help! To start, if your local elected official supports food and physical activity, get informed and learn how your can show your support and pass along their message. Engage with local nonprofits. For example, the Community Food Bank here in Tucson always needs volunteers, and would be lucky to have you. Buy local foods when you can! Supporting local farmers is a good way to improve the abundance of fresh foods in our local food system. And finally, be physically active yourself. If you are out and about, it will encourage others to follow in suit.
You can start by joining us, and the mayor, to walk the Turquoise Trail this Sunday, October 26 at 8:00 a.m. Shirts and water will be provided, and we invite you to join the mayor for refreshments at La Cocina after the walk. Check out our Facebook Page (Tucson Moves) for more.