Call me an idealist. Rather that fretting about the dismal health rankings for St. Clair County (94 out of 102, County Health Rankings) I see opportunity to address one of the primary contributors to this dismal ranking. Although two out of three adults in St. Clair County are obese or overweight, this did not happen overnight, and there are no quick fixes. It's tempting to label obesity as a character flaw or blame single causes in the environment like:
* Fast food industry for supersizing us.
* Agricultural industry for infusing foods with high fructose corn syrup.
* Schools for cutting back on physical education or junk-food-filled vending machines.
* Parents for allowing their kids too much screen time.
* Developers for urban sprawl.
* Communities for allowing development without sidewalks.
*Highway departments for streets that are hazardous to pedestrians.
*Governments for abandoning mass transit.
It's also tempting to look to the medical profession for a pill to cure this ill.
Time to stop the blame game and single-solution thinking. It's time to acknowledge the importance of individual and community responsibility and time to start working together if we want to have a collective effect on this epidemic.
Our region has abundant academic, health, governmental and non-governmental resources, with talented, ambitious, employees and volunteers. We also have access to expert knowledge and many channels of communication at our disposal.
However, our greatest assets can also be our Achilles heel. Experts speak their own language and try to solve problems in isolation, while institutions value competition over cooperation.
The challenges facing St. Clair County cannot be solved quickly or by the government, any one entity or the private sector. Moving the needle on the obesity epidemic will demand collaboration and cooperation from a wide range of partners and stakeholders.
Our county has made a good start on addressing many of the environmental factors that contribute to obesity and overweight. The network of trails is growing in the region. Schools and communities are partnering on Safe Routes to Schools initiatives. Bike racks are being installed around businesses and on Metro buses and trains. School and community gardens are popping up like new seedlings.
The YMCA and East Side Health District are working with schools to offer cost-effective programs like Coordinated Approach to Child Health to address childhood obesity. St. Clair County Health Department has secured a four-year, $1.1 million grant to address obesity and other chronic health concerns through multi-partner collaboration using evidence-based approaches.
We are headed in the right direction, but collaboration can always be improved. Get Up & Go, in partnership with the St. Clair County Health Department and the county Health Commission is sponsoring the 4th Annual Policy Summit at McKendree University's Hett Theatre on Thursday. Monte Roulier will be the keynote speaker on The Power of Collective Impact.
Municipal leaders and staff, health care professionals, school leaders and interested citizens should all attend to learn how we can maximize our collaborative efforts. To register, visit www.getupgo.info.
Rita E. Boyd, RN, Ph.D., is emeritus associate professor at the SIUE School of Nursing and past president of Get Up & Go Inc.