"America is growing ... fat." Back in 2005, I made this quip within the pages of the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's 2005 Ped & Pedal Plan, which highlighted strategies to help our region bike and walk more. The 2010 update to this plan has just been completed, and the news is not getting better.
Physical activity rates are dangerously low and continue to deteriorate. According to 2008 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado stood as the only state that had an obesity rate of less than 20 percent. In the NIRPC region (Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties), all three counties have surpassed 25 percent, with Lake County "winning" the battle of the bulge with 32.1 percent.
OK, so we are getting fat. But why? Well, instead of calling this an obesity epidemic, how about the right title, a "physical inactivity and poor nutrition epidemic." Not as catchy, but totally on the mark.
We are not only eating a diet rich in calories but also combining that with an increasing focus indoors where we are limited in our movements. When you add our stretched-out physical environment (suburban sprawl) and poor development patterns (where's the sidewalk?), it's a perfect recipe for a society rife with all the nasties -- cancers, diabetes, heart disease, etc. Study after study and study has made it clear: Exercise must be combined with a healthy diet to achieve optimum benefits. Best yet, you don't have to be an athlete to achieve this.
My role with NIRPC is that of "nonmotorized transportation and greenways planner," which means I stay very busy. The spectrum of "nonmotorized transportation" comes in many flavors -- from biking, to walking, to running, to canoeing and yes, even to horseback riding.
Now the latter two are purely recreational -- many moons have passed since we shopped and commuted to work via real live horsepower and our rivers. However, all forms of nonmotorized travel provide multiple benefits for our region.
These benefits are what I will be focusing on through this monthly column. There are many, to be sure, and each deserves due focus.
Some of these will be obvious -- like better health. If you're on a bike, you already know this is better for your body than driving around in a car.
There are other benefits, however, that don't garner enough respect. These include economic benefits such as improved property values, and business retention and attraction. Also, remember the air quality improvements; bicycles require zero gas, and hence, produce zero emissions (my kind of math).
I look forward to sharing with you the importance of creating a nonmotorized culture in Northwest Indiana, and I thank The Times for the opportunity to do so.
To learn more about the work of NIRPC and of nonmotorized issues, visit our website at http://www.nirpc.org or call me at (219) 763-6060.
Mitch Barloga is nonmotorized transportation and greenways planner for the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.