In a recent study, researchers forecast that by 2030, 86.3% of American adults will be overweight or obese.

By 2048, all American adults would become overweight or obese. Total health-care costs attributable to obesity would rise to 860.7–956.9 billion US dollars by 2030, accounting for 16–18% of total US health-care costs.

By 2048, that number would swell to 3.8276 trillion US dollars. Or if you prefer $3, 827, 600, 000, 000 USD.

Yikes. Obviously, there is a problem.

So what is to be done?

How about something like this:

David Conn of the Guardian reports that, “In unfeasibly hot sunshine on the banks of the lake in Helsinki’s Central Park 100 or so women of all ages and sizes – and two sheepish men – are throwing themselves into an aerobics session, music and the instructor’s commands blasting from speakers in a Transit van parked on the grass”.

“Laid on by the city council’s sports department for a decade now, summer outdoor aerobics is free and the Finns seem to be natural joiners-in”.

“This flow of exercise, and the diverse range of people taking part, represents pure satisfaction for the Helsinki Sports Department, which has as its declared mission: “To improve the quality of life and fitness of people in Helsinki through sports and physical recreation.”

And they are doing a heck of a job.

  • 55% of Finns engage in some form of moderate intensity exercise 3 days a week.
  • They have also seen a 60 % decline in heart disease mortality since 1970.

I can’t even guess what percentage of Americans, Canadians, Brits, Aussies, Poles, Russians, etc… can make the same claim.

Why Finland?

In Finland, the government recognized some of modern life’s health hazards with a landmark initiative in 1972. The eastern region of Finland had made international headlines for the world’s highest rate of heart disease..

The most profound lesson by the Finns was that there was no instant remedy. “The real innovation was understanding that ill-health was a question of general lifestyle. People had a very fatty, meaty diet but their habits were deeply rooted in the physical and social environment. They had to work at a very local level to gradually change people’s way of life, working with health centers, schools, community organizations”.

After five years the results were good and the program went national.

Concern that people were not exercising enough came in the 90s, when the Finns realized that sedentary, urban life was cutting them off from sport and their traditional closeness to nature – the woods and lakes to which many still decamp in the summer.

“They applied the same principle, working with many organizations including sports clubs, investing in facilities, educating people that exercising more makes you well and happy.”

In Helsinki, the investment in sports facilities has gone uninterrupted for decades. In a city of 570,000, there are 550 health facilities, including swimming pools. In addition, they have 200km of ski tracks, 160km of cycle and walkways.

Because the sports centers are modern, well-maintained and close to where people live, Finland does not have a fitness class divide, between plush private gyms for the relatively wealthy and dog-eared municipal sites for everybody else.

This access to quality health facilities may have something to do with why affluent Americans are more likely than lower income Americans to exercise regularly.

“The government strongly recognizes the need to promote good health, there is good co-operation between authorities and the changes are based on hard work since the 1970s.”

So what am I supposed to do?

Glad you asked…..You can write/call/email/visit/stalk all of your various government representatives and ask them why can they do this in Finland and not here?

You can take the bull by the horns and set up your own ad hoc neighborhood fitness club. Head down to the local playground at put up some flyers to arouse interest.

If you have no idea how to begin setting up an exercise class, find yourself a good (ask around, word of mouth is key) personal trainer and get them to set it up. $100 a class to the trainer is pretty cheap if you can find 20 other participants.

Contact the local newspaper or t.v. station and see if they would give you some publicity. Obesity is a big story these days. People taking charge of a situation that their government is doing nothing about may just be newsworthy. At least, it’s a feel good story.

Contact businesses involved in fitness. Beg for donations. Sponsors can be rewarded with free publicity. And, you can always ask little ole’ me for advice.

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