Turn on any news program and the message is clear: Obesity in the U.S. has skyrocketed over the past few decades. Increasingly, research has focused on environmental factors contributing to obesity. The term ‘obesogenic environment’ has emerged: Public health researchers define it as ‘one that promotes obesity by encouraging physical inactivity and unhealthy food choices.’ Put more simply, it means your surroundings may be making you fat.
You’ve embarked on The Center for Medical Weight Loss program to help move your weight in the right direction. Good for you! But you may still be affected by an obesogenic environment, and it may make your medical weight loss program more difficult. Take the quiz below to see how ‘obesogenic’ your environment may be, then read on for some simple solutions for combating it.
Answer ‘True’ or ‘False’ to each of the following:
- It is less than a 10-minute walk to a grocery store, church, restaurant, post office, salon, or drug store from my house.
- Bicycling and walking are major means of transportation for the residents of my community.
- There are lots of parks, green space, and recreational areas in my hometown.
- I feel safe walking or exercising outdoors in my neighborhood.
- There are fewer than three fast food restaurants within a 5-minute drive from my house.
- There is at least one farmer’s market in my hometown.
- I am able to find a wide variety of fresh produce and healthy, minimally processed foods at my local supermarket.
Now look at how many ‘false’ answers you had. Each of these indicates the presence of environmental factors that may contribute to obesity. Let’s look at ways to keep them from impacting your weight loss program:
Get your incidental exercise. Questions 1 and 2 relate to how conducive your environment is to incidental exercise. Areas where there is ‘mixed land use’—that is, there are residences and businesses in close proximity—have been shown in studies to contribute to lower obesity rates. Similarly, good networks of sidewalks and bike paths also have been shown to correlate with healthier body weights. If you lack either of these in your hometown, look for other ways to get this type of exercise. For example, on the weekend, you could plan a long bike trip to run errands, or walk to a friend’s house instead of driving. Making this a weekly habit goes a long way toward burning calories and improving your fitness levels, and is more environmentally friendly as well.
Take advantage of the great outdoors. Questions 3 and 4 relate to how well your community supports recreational facilities that contribute to physical fitness. If there is a dearth of good, safe parks in your neighborhood, simply being aware of the impact on your fitness is a great starting point. Then, look further afield. Sport and Fitness Clubs are in major metropolitan areas and offer weekly organized sports and fitness events at area parks. If you live in a rural area or suburban area and have a big backyard, you may want to turn it into your own park: Invite your friends and neighbors over for a weekly volleyball tournament.
Keep it fresh and local. Questions 5 through 7 test how well your environment supports healthy food and discourages unhealthy food. Obviously, if there are lots of fast food joints in your area, you need to steer clear of them, perhaps by taking a different route home. But if you are also plagued by a lack of healthful staple foods, you need to go on the offensive. Chances are there is at least one farmer’s market or co-op within driving distance; you’ll be surprised at the different produce you’ll see at each.
For better supermarket choices, you’ll also need to do some research. If possible, try not to let cost dictate your decisions; often, healthy food does cost a bit more. You’ll also likely spend more time getting to and from a larger and more health-focused store. However, the rewards you’ll reap with your health and medical weight loss program more than outweigh the incremental time and cost.
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