With approximately 2 of every 3 Americans reporting being overweight or obese, there is still discussion of individual responsibility. While there is definitely a role that individuals play in the overall management of their health (including weight), there needs to be a recognition of the systems that surround us that play a role in what options are available to us as individuals or a population in addressing nutrition and physical activity. Systems might be referred to as the built environment and include things such as walking paths, lighting, food stores, and other resources that help individuals access healthful food and engage in physical activity.
In 2010, prior to harsher economic situations for many American households, there were approximately 23.5 million Americans living in food deserts which are characterized by living more than 1 mile away from a supermarket in an urban/suburban area or more than 10 miles from a supermarket in rural areas. These food deserts are also commonly associated with play deserts where there are not built environments that support engagement in physical activity. Food deserts and play deserts are most likely to affect those with lower incomes. I am currently living more than a mile from a grocery store. I do work within a mile of a several grocery stores. My neighborhood does not have side walks, there are low traffic dirt roads and hiking trails nearby. I also have a dog that appreciates time in the outdoors. Even with reliable transportation and reasonable access, maintaining a healthful routine can be challenging. I often work with people that either know what they should be doing for their nutrition and physical activity or are seeking reliable information to make changes but these system issues can be real barriers that make living a healthful lifestyle more challenging. I just returned from a conference where some session presenters spoke on how they are addressing these system issues for their service populations.
Stay tuned for future postings on examples on how other individuals and communities have sought to address these system challenges.