Monday, July 28, 2014

The Obesity Crisis and The Midtown Manhattan Active Recreation Exclusion Zone

In 1990 there was no state in the US with an obesity rate over 14%, Today many states are above 30% and no state is below 20%.” -Center for Disease Control

But while obesity may not be the Black Death, it is a severe public health crisis. Experts agree that as more and more obese children become obese adults, the diseases associated with obesity, such as heart disease, cancer, and especially diabetes will surge. That will mean a lot of sick people.”

Active park users were less likely to be overweight than those who had longer park visits and either used the park for passive activities or did not use the park at all “ link

How Fit is NYC?
New York City comes in 24th out of 50 metropolitan areas on the 2014 American Fitness Index, a report released by the American College of Sports Medicine.NY Post 
How Fit is Midtown?
These 2 maps show midtown between 2nd to 8th Aves, 4th to 57th Streets. On the left, with the exception of Bryant Park , there is no public space active recreation for adults in  Community Board 5  and  this larger area of Manhattan. On the right is shown the “Food Recreation” locations in the areas public spaces. Plenty of food recreation, essentially no active recreation.

                                              Active Recreation locations =1                   Food Recreation Locations=16

Whose responsibility is active recreation in Community board 5? Other than Bryant Park no one in CB5  has taken responsibility for active recreation needs or the  adults and seniors  of Community board 5 . What has occurred is that Community Board 4 and Community Board 6 have taken up the slack for CB5.

 Visual recreation (art exhibits) are simply not a substitute for active recreation in fighting our obesity epidemic

A number of studies reviewed in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showed that “creation of or enhanced access to places for physical activity combined with informational outreach” produced a 48 percent increase in the frequency of physical activity (Kahn, pp. 87-88). These studies also found that easy access to a place to exercise resulted in a five percent median increase in aerobic capacity, along with weight loss, a reduction in body fat, and improvements in flexibility (Ibid, pp. 87-88).   link

 Update August 2015
A while back I wrote the above blog piece and suggested active recreation offerings in public spaces  as the solution to our obesity crisis. ,  I have now found out a few interesting facts.

 Physical activity is important and certainly helps, experts say. But studies show that exercise increases appetite, causing people to consume more calories. Exercise also expends far fewer calories than most people think. A 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola, for example, contains 140 calories and roughly 10 teaspoons of sugar. “It takes three miles of walking to offset that one can of Coke,” Dr. Popkin said.  link

 Did you know that M&Ms are really football fields? To find out what this means, take a small bag of M&Ms and go to the back of the end zone at your local football field. Open the bag, take out one M&M and eat it. Now start walking to the other end of the football field and into the far end zone. You’ve just walked 120 yards and burned off one M&M.  link

 So exercise really isn't going to help most people fight obesity. What will most help people fight obesity is eating less.Unfortunately eating is a really enjoyable form of recreation and our public spaces often offer it as the sole form of recreation at their location. 

I don't think the idea of getting rid of food recreation in our public spaces is going to go over too well. What might work is to have a policy for public spaces that if you offer "Food Recreation" you also have to offer an equal amount of other healthier recreation choices. 

Recently I talked to a public space designer about food recreation and the lack of alternatives, he pointed out to me a playing field behind the eatery. he was proposing  This is not an equivalent item. 

- To eat at that location you go up to the counter and purchase an item of food or drink

-To use the playing field you have to bring your own  equipment from what may be a significant distance. 

-A wide variety of Food Recreation options  is made as convenient as possible at this location

-Other alternative  forms of activities recreation at this site are "Bring your own Bottle" , and nowhere near as convenient.

So what this public designer is offering is not equal. What would be equal is a staffed parkhouse offering active and activities recreation equivalent. An example of such a parkhouse is at Rockefeller Park a New York state Park in Battery Park City.  (see sapppable park entry below for details).