As is the case in the rest of our great nation, the people of Harford County are getting greater, on average, with each passing day.
Unfortunately, greater in this sense of the word isn't a good thing. We're not getting taller on average, but we are getting heavier, which, as the Harford County government has come to realize, means a disturbing percentage of our folks are classified as overweight or outright obese.
Nearly two-thirds of us fall into the category of being overweight or obese, and, according to a health department study cited in a story published Friday in The Aegis, the problem starts when we're young and gets worse as we get older. The survey says 9.7 percent of young people in the county are characterized as obese, compared to 26.2 percent of the overall population falling into that category.
The progression is nothing new. The problem of getting fatter as we get older was tagged a generation or so ago with the name middle-age spread. What is alarming, however, is that too much weight is affecting more and more people all the time.
The county government has appointed a committee and assigned it the task of making recommendations about what could be done to address the overweight problem, which is a real and substantial health issue. Items on a list of recommendations fall into two broad categories: Increasing public exercise opportunities and encouraging people, especially public school students, to eat a more healthy diet.
Adding park trails to increase walking, jogging and bicycling opportunities is a good idea, and may have some effect. Similarly, it doesn't hurt anything to teach young people about eating healthy and to encourage everyone, regardless of age, to make healthy choices about snacks, desserts and whether to get in line for seconds.
Now that the committee has issued its recommendations, it's up to us as individuals to get healthy. It will be nice if there are more parks and recreation opportunities for exercising, and it will be good to have this recommendation as another reason to promote recreation projects. Similarly, the committee's recommendations may have a positive effect on our young people.
Realistically speaking, however, the government's ability to get people to be healthy is limited. It took decades to make a dent in smoking, and progress was made only with high taxes on tobacco. The same model won't work with food. To date, the governments most successful in reducing the average citizen's weight have been in places like North Korea, where there often isn't enough to eat – period, and where they are notoriously successful in just about every other aspect of public policy for the wrong reasons
Being overweight has public health implications, but fixing the problem is a matter of persuasion, not regulation. There are only a few things any government can do, beyond trying to set a good example.