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Economic recovery plan: Diet, exercise, and help save the economy

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | OCTOBER 12, 2011 7:20 AM

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It's your choice whether to exercise. But if you prefer minimal government expenditures, you might want to start taking the stairs — by 2050, one-third of the American people are projected to suffer from diabetes. Unsurprisingly, health care costs are also expected to skyrocket.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad seems to acknowledge these facts, and he hopes to make Iowa the healthiest state in the nation by 2016. In a campaign to improve overall health, fitness, and quality of life, the governor challenged Iowans on Oct. 7 to walk 1 kilometer as a part of the "Start Somewhere Walk" in support of the new Healthiest State Initiative. More than 200,000 Iowans pledged to take part in the walk as of that morning.

"Obviously, it doesn't hurt to aim high when it comes to something like this," said Faryle Nothwehr, a University of Iowa community & behavioral health associate professor. "It is very challenging, however, because there are so many aspects to public health."

While Branstad's ambition seems drastic in scope, his intent is something to praise. In a nation marred by high obesity, national debt, and spiking diabetes rates, government endorsement and communal involvement in regard to public health is a laudable investment of minimal resources.

In order to curb projected American health statistics, awareness must be raised. The stance on poor health can no longer be one of sensitivity and reassurance. Beyond repetitive education and information, we must take it upon ourselves to create an environment in which becoming and staying fit is as important as maintaining a healthy GPA, keeping a job, or participating in philanthropic endeavors. Change is created by fostering an environment in which change can occur. If this doesn't happen, it might be more than our hearts that will be hurt — it'll be our wallets.

America is an increasingly obese nation, and Iowa lands in the middle of the pack in terms of health. Currently, 6.8 percent of Iowa's population has diabetes, representing an 80-percent increase in just under two decades.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that the number of Americans with diabetes — 24 million people — is projected to triple by 2050. Obesity is the leading modifiable risk factor for diabetes.

The incorporation and local relevancy of this new plan of action serves as a catalytic vessel for the all-too familiar topic of public health and personal well-being.

Branstad has the right idea — there's no substitute for physical activity. The American mentality seems to be forever accustomed to a system in which seeking alternatives to action precedes problem-solving, whether because of procrastination, avoidance, or denial.

By ignoring the body's biological need for proper diet and exercise, one does a disservice not only to her- or himself but to the taxpayers of the community and the nation.

An examination and comparison of the projections for national health expenditure bear an ominous foreboding. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services is projecting a $924 billion increase in national health expenditure by 2016.

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease — they are serious and costly, and they should not be dismissed as ailments of a modern age. These are not factors of a 21st century life, necessitating reluctant acceptance and incorporation into the norm. These are indicators of ignorance and laziness, of passivity and excuse. Sure, there are biological factors — but there is a difference between a biologically or genetically predisposed disorder and an ailment brought on by action (or lack thereof).

In examining the extent of Branstad's advocacy and agency, we must also consider our own. A continuation of the current public-health trend doesn't just spell disaster for one, but for all. A nationalized health-care program and an increasingly unhealthy public adds up to an increase in cost for Americans, fit or not. Thus, it is an American reality that the poor health choices of a few become the burden of the masses.

While the scope of the Healthiest State Initiative remains naïvely optimistic and astoundingly ambitious, the potency of the public-health problem and the urgency of addressing it is undeniable.

"There are already so many initiatives underway," Nothwehr said. "If the governor is serious about change, hopefully, he'll continue to fund and even increase funding for programs like this one."

Regardless of aim, government initiative with regards to public health and fitness awareness is a welcomed sight for sore eyes and empty pockets. Given close consideration of national projections, a re-evaluation of goals, and a realignment of policy, Branstad's plan has potential. If nothing else, the initiative sparks public awareness of a very public matter that concerns long-term public spending. A revision of the plan and an increase in programs similar to it, especially at local and state levels, is nonetheless a step in the right direction.


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