The Grassroots Health Movement

Encourage, Educate, Exercise

In a study released by the CDC in 2015, almost 40 percent of American adults over the age of 20 are obese, while an additional 30 percent are overweight. This means 70% of Americans are putting themselves at a greater risk of developing diseases such as cardiovascular disease. With such a high number of us on the heavy side, I began wondering what kind of culture this is creating.

The American culture as a whole has begun to accept that being overweight is okay. With modern medicine being as advanced as it is, and most people holding jobs that do not require strenuous work, it has become culturally ok if someone wants to live their life in the 300-pound range. I understand that it is wrong to push people to change when they are not seeking change themselves, as it can make people feel uncomfortable. However, we need to begin to create a culture that fosters more people taking time out of their day to work on their health. I don’t think it will take government programs to bring down the overweight percentage from 70% to a lower level. Instead, it will take a cultural shift driven by us, the citizens.

In my recent article about a grassroots solution to obesity, I mentioned that words become action, and action becomes habits. To add onto that, collective habit becomes culture. Culture has a drastic effect on how a member of that culture behaves. Let’s look at the military as an example. When young men and women join the military, they are all within weight limits, but vary in their levels of fitness. Immediately from day one, military culture takes hold, and part of that culture includes daily workouts. Within a few months, someone who maybe has never worked out a day in their life may crank out 20 pull-ups at a time. The military culture drives soldiers to stay in shape, the same as the current American culture drives people to underestimate the importance of their health.

What does this culture look like in the office? Let’s say you are working in an office with 10 colleagues. Statistically, 4 of them will be obese, 3 of them will be overweight, 2 of them will have a healthy weight and exercise often, and 1 will be in great shape and work out regularly. Regardless of which one of these employees you are, you can take the same three steps to change your office’s culture to make it more healthy: Encourage, Educate, and Exercise.

Encourage: Any time one of your colleagues decides to make a healthy decision, offer positive feedback. If George decides to eat a salad instead of a burger, go to the park with his kids instead of a movie, or hit the gym after work, be friendly and say something “That’s awesome, I love going the park with my kids. It feels great getting out and stretching after sitting all day. Do you plan on making it a weekly thing?” This is a subtle encouragement for going to the park again, helping George stay active.

Educate: Learn and teach. Always try to learn more about how to live healthier, and spread your knowledge. If your colleagues enjoy bringing desserts into the office to share, try bringing in a kick butt sugar-free dish one day and see if anyone notices. Take small steps to show that healthier eating doesn’t mean you have to eat tofu for every meal. If the office likes to have a company outing every once in a while, volunteer to organize the next event and choose to do something active and fun like dodgeball. Show that exercise can be a lot of fun. Overall, share your knowledge in a non-intimidating way.

Exercise: This means set the example. To try to change the culture, get out and exercise, and try to eat healthy yourself. Don’t be like crossfitters and tell everyone every minute what you’re doing. When you’re looking good, eventually someone will mention it or ask for help, providing the opportunity to share your knowledge.

If everything goes well, encouraging, educating, and exercising will motivate a couple of your colleagues to start making some changes to live healthier. Now you might have 3, 4, or even 5 of your co-workers talking consistently about your health as common office talk. A culture of healthy living has begun to form.

It only takes one person to change the culture of a small group, but it takes time. As more small groups, families, or friends groups change their health culture, soon the collective American culture will begin to change, and the obesity percentage should begin to decrease. So be the change, start the movement toward better health, it only takes one to make a difference. You are the root of change.


Quote of the Week – 21 Nov

“Sometimes you have to dive in head first” – Admiral McRaven

Although I’m sure a lot of people have said this before, to me it is most memorable coming from Admiral William McRaven, Navy SEAL, in his UT commencement speech. With regards to health, fitness, and weight loss, so many people don’t know where to start, so they never do. They spend so much time trying to find the best diet plans and exercises that they never begin to achieve their health goals. To live a healthy life you do need to learn some basic skills such as how to prepare healthy food and keep good form on workouts, but these will be learned over time. If you are just starting out, I believe it is most important to dive head first into the deep end and begin exercising using your current skills. Get your workouts in, and learn as you go. Never procrastinate and keep the momentum up.

National Obesity Epidemic Grassroots Solution

When I see a commercial for diet pills, diets that restrict the body of nutritional essentials, or programs that claim you can lose substantial weight in very short periods of time, I cringe. After watching friends and family fall into this trap over and over again without reaching their goals, I became tired of seeing them trying these temporary fixes and becoming frustrated that they didn’t work long term. For example, the Atkins diet. This diet wants to cut out carbs and increase protein consumption. Does it work? Yes, I’ve seen people lose weight from this diet. However, if you remove carbs from your diet, your body doesn’t have the energy it needs to properly function, making this diet short term. Then when the diet ends, the problem wasn’t fixed, and weight gets put back on.

In business school, students are taught to look for pain points and create and market products to alleviate the pain. So naturally, when the pain point is obesity, methods to lose weight quickly such as the Adkins diet will be very popular. However, this strategy doesn’t pass business ethics. Sticking with the Atkins diet example, if a middle-aged man with high blood pressure and high cholesterol adopts the high protein diet and only eats Pork and Beef for a month to lose weight, this could pose a serious health risk. Not only is he not getting proper nutrients or energy, but he is continually increasing his blood pressure and cholesterol. Then when he continues to eat poorly when off the diet, gains weight, and goes back on the Atkins diet a year later, his health will further decline. Pain point solved, right?

Wrong. Although profitable, the morality behind marketing products that are supposed to aid in weight loss, but instead can hurt one’s health is iffy. So what should the middle-aged man do to get his summer body? What he needs is a lifestyle change. He needs to eat healthier and exercise, it’s really that simple. The problem is he doesn’t know how to properly exercise or eat healthier, so he turns to what is marketed to him, which is far more convenient when he has a busy job and extensive social calendar.

Millions of Americans are in this position when it comes to weight loss. They are trying, but ultimately failing. Government leaders have created national movements and education programs to stop the obesity epidemic, but that often just translates to a few headlines about exercising more on NBC. So what can we do to stop obesity? The government isn’t making much headway, businesses are trying to sell product not solutions, and frankly, we as Americans are not doing much to help, especially with the “big is beautiful” campaigns. Big can be beautiful, that is until you get diabetes. Like many large movements, this needs to start at the grassroots level, within the culture of small communities. If more of us decide to learn about exercise and nutrition, then spread the word to our friends and families, slowly healthy living will become standard vocabulary. The more we talk about it, the more likely we are to take action. Then as we all start taking action to get ourselves, friends, and family out of obesity, then soon healthy living will be a habit.

So let’s start with helping one another, and before we know it we will make America healthy again.