Most smokers wish they’d never started. Just about everybody who is overweight wants to take off a few pounds. So why can’t more of us do that?
Because it’s incredibly hard. Nicotine addiction is real and perpetuated by Big Tobacco. When it comes to obesity, we’re biologically designed to hold onto calories and Big Food actually engineers food to be addictive. Add in the fact that when people are stressed, whether it’s someone having a bad day, or living in poverty, they are more likely to smoke and overeat. Given that, is it any wonder two-thirds of us in Louisiana are obese and overweight and one in five of us smokes?
But we have to do something about tobacco and obesity. These are the leading causes of death in Louisiana, the United States and the world. And, unlike many other diseases, we ultimately can control what we put in our bodies, whether it’s tobacco or food. So these are preventable deaths. But rather than waiting until the end of the line, when we’ve already started smoking or already put on a few pounds and when it’s much harder to change or do, as well as much more expensive, we can do things that help us from ever being put in that position.
How? As Louisiana Healthy Communities Coalition Chair Mikal “Mack” Giancola quotes, we do that “By making the healthy choice the easy choice.” That means making the place in which we are born and live healthier, so we’re surrounded by good choices. And that means doing what public health experts call “Policy, Systems and Environmental Change” (also known as PSE).
And what does PSE look like? These changes are taking place all around you, such as:
- Smoke-Free ordinances (21-plus in Louisiana); establishing Complete Streets policies (11-plus in LA); and setting aside municipal areas for farmer’s markets or green space. Ruston rents a city-owned building to farmers for a market for $100 a year, which is so popular Mayor Ronny Walker says he wishes he had done it as sooner. All of these are examples of real-life Louisiana policy changes.
- System changes include examples such as the Louisiana Cancer Prevention & Control Programs (LCP) helping Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) improve their processes to increase colorectal cancer screening rates. Now Louisiana’s FQHC screening rate is beating the national average. In another example, Dr. David Holcombe, the central Louisiana regional health director for the Office of Public Health, has initiated some specific system changes to fight tobacco and obesity. He makes sure that everyone who registers for clinical services at a health unit receives material on smoking and obesity, with smokers getting “Quit Now” information and everyone getting a Body Mass Index or “BMI” chart to understand our weight issues. Given that two-thirds of us are overweight or obese, people looking around might think they are a normal weight when they’re not. The BMI chart, which the nurse must discuss with patients, helps them understand that fact.
- Towns and cities putting in walking trails and bike ; installing lighting to make public areas safer and more useable; and listing calorie counts on foods. Depending on what it is, cities, towns and individual entities all around Louisiana are making these environmental changes.
What’s even more wonderful about these changes is that all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds beyond public health, are starting to understand and see how important these types of changes are. They not only improve health and save money, but drive business, spur additional investment, increase real estate values, improve quality of life in communities, and make people happier. So keep reading this blog to see how these things are happening!