Kids walking together to school? People taking a portion of their dinosaur-sized dinners home in to-go boxes? Meetings that begin with dancing? The South Bay communities of Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, and Manhattan Beach are doing something revolutionary: Moving! Yes, everyone has long known that the nation needs to walk more and eat less, but these seaside alpha-people are actually doing it, making a concerted effort to lose weight and improve their cardiovascular health over the next three years. The L.A. Times reports that these South Bay cities are attempting to upgrade the overall health of their citizens, who already look noticeably more svelte than most Angelenos, but still have some of the highest rates of hypertension in L.A. County.
The region is the first named "Vitality City," part of a program founded by one Dan Buettner, who conceived of this community-based health program with a $3.5 million grant from a company named Healthways. The South Bay will also benefit from the contributions of health and city planning experts, as well as a $1.8 million contribution from its own Beach Cities Health District.
The money and efforts will go to improving bike paths, building community gardens, encouraging healthier food options to be served at restaurants, organizing walking groups, and generally making the prospect of going outside and exercising a lot more attractive.
Buettner explains, "We can't force people to do this, but we can create a perfect storm of influence to get a lot of things done."
While it pays to look good in the South Bay, much of the motivation and reason for its participation boil down to economics. The rallying cause here is one intended to reduce hospital costs and medical fees, in the idea that it is more economically sensible to prevent disease rather than treat it through costly medical practices. Similarly, the South Bay is able to participate in the program because it has the money to support the improvements, as well as the resources to compete for grants and lobby for its participation in the program.
UCLA Center for Health Policy Research scientist Susan Babey tells the paper, "The cities that are struggling the most don't have the resources to go out and compete for grants...They miss out on some opportunities that they could potentially really benefit from."
But while the beach-ready bodies of South Bay might seem like the last place to need a health initiative, this is certainly a good thing to see communities come together with whatever resources they have to improve their overall health. Surely, the improvements and results of the three-year exercise could only aid in giving a model to and inspiring the rest of the city, and country, along in its upward hike to solve the U.S. obesity epidemic.