Friday, March 19, 2004

Louise Furman walks
Louise Furman with her black Schnauzer, Peter, and Linda Taber, both of Anderson Township, walk on the trail at Julifs Park.
(Brandi Stafford photo)

Paths lead to fitness

Anderson Township is among area communities
that recognize the value of a good walk

By Peggy O'Farrell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

CincinnatiWalks: Aim for 10,000 steps a day, in step with the Greater Cincinnati Nutrition Council. Information: 621-3262;

America on the Move: Shoot for 5,000 steps a day with this national program.

SparkCincinnati: Take the 10 Million Minute Challenge.

The Walk Club, sponsored by the Hamilton County General Health District and Hamilton County Parks, for adults 50 and over. Information: 946-7807.

Cincinnati Recreation Commission: The organization sponsors golf, volleyball, softball and many other activities.

Americans are fat, we're getting fatter and it's killing us at an alarming rate.

In 2000, poor diet, inactivity and obesity killed 400,000 Americans - 16 percent of all deaths. Tobacco killed 435,000 in 2000, but obesity is on its way to becoming the leading killer of Americans, according to a study released last week.

More big, fat news nuggets:

The Food and Drug Administration unveiled its "Calories Count" initiative last week. Proposed actions by the agency include revising nutrition labels to emphasize overall calorie counts; defining terms like "low-carb" on food product labels; encouraging restaurants to voluntarily provide information on health menu choices; encouraging food manufacturers to put dietary guidance statements on food labels; enforcing accurate serving size declarations on food labels; and coordinating obesity research efforts.

McDonald's is eliminating its "Supersize" fries and drinks. The mega-portions should be phased out nationally by the end of the year, except in special promotions.

Krispy Kreme announced it will offer a low-sugar doughnut for dieters and diabetics by the end of 2004.

Pepperidge Farm will eliminate trans-fatty acids from its Goldfish crackers with 90 percent having zero trans fats by May, and all Goldfish being trans fat free by September.

Walking should be simple: Point yourself in the right direction and put one foot in front of the other until you're where you want to be.

But urban sprawl, heavy traffic, lack of sidewalks and an unwillingness to get off the couch often make hoofing it complicated in Greater Cincinnati and other metropolitan areas around the nation.

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows obesity is on its way to becoming the leading cause of death in the United States, overtaking tobacco use. If Americans want to change that, experts say, it's time to start building communities that encourage physical activity.

Anderson Township is leading the pack toward change.

Last month, trustees gave the final go-ahead for construction of a two-mile hiking and biking trail to connect schools, neighborhoods, the library and, eventually, Anderson Towne Center. The Five Mile Bike Trail will join the four miles of hiking and biking trails the township already has.

"It's healthy for people to get out and walk. It's healthy for kids to be able to go see their friends in other neighborhoods. One of the impetuses that got me going was to not have to drive my kids to their classmates' houses," says Tom Caruso, chairman of the township's Traffic Advisory Committee.

In addition to building trails, the township is also focusing on adding and replacing sidewalks in residential and business areas, Caruso says.

The goal is to establish pedestrian-friendly routes that tie residential areas with shopping enclaves along Beechmont, Clough Pike, Eight Mile Road and other arterial roads, Caruso says.

Cincinnati has several community-wide fitness initiatives, including SparkCincinnati, CincinnatiWalks and America on the Move. But Tristaters need more safe places to walk or bicycle and places to go - stores, restaurants - along the way, says Dr. Brian Saelens, a psychologist and researcher at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Saelens is studying what factors make neighborhoods conducive to physical activity.

In some subdivisions, there are no sidewalks, making it unsafe to walk along busy streets. And in some neighborhoods, residents can't walk easily because all of the homes are clustered at one end of town while all of the stores are miles away.

"If communities are developing areas that are only residential or only commercial, then people can't walk between those two things," Saelens says.

Dr. Robert Ludke, a researcher at the University of Cincinnati's Institute for Health Policy and Health Services Research and a member of the Health Improvement Collaborative's Healthy Living/Healthy Weight Initiative, has heard the same complaints.

"One of the factors that has been found why people don't exercise is lack of available resources to do so, particularly inexpensive resources," he said.

"It's been pointed out that communities are designed where all the streets are cul-de-sacs and that type of thing and communities are built off busy intersections. Ultimately, it's difficult for people to get out and walk some distance."Walking offers several benefits: People who exercise live longer, healthier lives. And people who walk aren't driving, which reduces traffic congestion and pollution, he says.

Don Burrell, the bicycle/pedestrian coordinator for the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI), is always looking for ways to make Greater Cincinnati friendlier for walkers and cyclists.

Burrell cycles from his home in Delhi Township to his office downtown a couple of times a week.

The Eighth Street viaduct is wide enough to accommodate cars and bicycles, Burrell says.

The rest of the route isn't. But Cincinnati drivers and cyclists are pretty good about sharing the road, he says.

"I don't get too many beeps," he says.

Burrell estimates he logs 50 miles a week on his bike, both riding to work and cycling for recreation.

Burrell says his "biggest challenge" is getting more sidewalks. Older city neighborhoods such as Hyde Park and Clifton, and suburbs built after the 1980s usually include sidewalks. But subdivisions built in the 1960s and 1970s usually don't feature sidewalks, he says.

OKI is one of 13 agencies nationally to qualify for a series of Walkable Community Workshops from the National Center for Bicycling and Walking. Two trainers from the center will present the workshops next month in Oxford, Florence, Independence, Over-the-Rhine, Erlanger, Mason, Liberty Township and Clermont County's Miami Township.

"We'll be attempting to come up with some solutions for improving walkability in those communities," Burrell says.


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