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Lighten up

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A strange observation about our nation is reflected in a recent health department presentation to the Harford County Council, namely that our country is so wealthy that poor people are often overweight.

Maybe it's just a coincidence, but even as the national and local economies have been on the downswing, it seems as though people in Harford County aren't going hungry. In a recent report to the county council, the county's health officer, Susan Kelly, said 60 percent of people in Harford County are either overweight or obese, a number that's been on the upswing for more than a decade.

As a side order to that unhealthy reality, Dr. Kelly served up the observation that Harford County ranks worse than the state average on seven of 39 health objectives. Not surprisingly, health issues afflicting Harford County's residents at a level that ends up being fatal — cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes — can be linked to being overweight, or smoking, or both.

The late Thomas Thomas, who served for many years as the county health officer, frequently pointed out that many of these same causes of death that led the pack years ago are preventable. In other words, while it isn't possible to overcome mortality, it is possible to increase your odds of living longer and more comfortably by exercising, losing a few pounds (and keeping it off) and staying away from tobacco.

As it turns out, most of us in Harford County have failed to hit that key mark, at least when it comes to the matter of maintaining a healthy weight. Which brings us back to the matter of being a nation so wealthy that being overweight is a problem that afflicts people regardless of economic station. It's been pointed out that this is no mystery. A healthy lunch is more expensive than two double cheeseburgers off the dollar menu and high-calorie food is generally less expensive (and often better tasting) than the healthy alternative.

Upon hearing from Dr. Kelly, the county council did what government bodies often do when confronted by a problem that has either no easy solution or a solution that's simple but no one wants to tackle: it decided to appoint a committee and hear a report on Harford County's weight problem in a year.

While it's possible a few key observations will come out of such a report when it comes to things like school lunches, the harsh reality for those of us who are among the 60 percent who could stand to lose a few pounds is a simple one: by eating less and exercising more, it is possible to lose weight and improve health.

If it takes having a dozen people sit around a table (hopefully without a bowl full of snacks) for a year to figure that out, so be it. For the rest of us, Dr. Kelly's report may well be a good reason to get an early start on a new year's resolution and have an apple instead of an apple pie when the choice presents itself.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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