Healthy Active+ist Live Well. Pay it Forward. Fri, 16 Dec 2016 21:24:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 One Door Closes, Another Opens….. Fri, 16 Dec 2016 21:17:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]> imgresI’m embarking on a new adventure and I couldn’t be more excited. First, let me talk about the chapter that’s ending….

At the end of this month my work with the Chatham County Partnership for Children will be finished. I’ve been coordinating our local Shape NC project for the past five years. Shape NC is a statewide project focused on early childhood obesity prevention and our funding ends this month.

I feel so great about the work we have done at the Partnership in collaboration with child care centers and community partners. Together we’ve made menus at child care centers healthier, built multiple vegetable gardens, transformed run of the mill playgrounds into natural outdoor learning environments, piloted a farmer’s market voucher project for families, helped build a nature trail, and much more.

I came to the job from Raleigh, where I was a policy analyst in the Physical Activity and Nutrition Branch of the state health department. I wanted to get to know Chatham County, where I had just moved, and I wanted to work “in the field,” rather than writing policy papers that Raleigh lawmakers might or might not read. Wow, what a change. A good one. I’ve never once regretted it.

Here are some things that of course I knew but now got to live them: families with young children are exhausted, child care providers are incredibly hard working and woefully, woefully underpaid, healthy food often tastes yucky to young children, children are naturally physically active if you just let them be, and (most) everyone wants to do the right thing.

It has been such a privilege to work for the Chatham County Partnership for Children. They do vitally important work, helping to keep child care in our county high quality and safe. They help make it affordable and accessible for some. That they cannot make it affordable for all is a huge national policy issue. Child care in this country costs more than college. I hope to stay active as a volunteer for the Partnership. Please, support them however you can.

My passion was, and is still, helping to create a culture of health in our community. And my next project will allow me to continue that work. I am very excitedly planning to open a yoga studio in Pittsboro in the spring. More details on that, very soon! For now I will just say that I very much want the studio to be more than a yoga studio, but a community that brings people together who care about wellness – both our personal wellness and that of the world we inhabit.

I am so grateful for all that I have learned in these last years, and totally excited for the next challenge.

Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten

(From the song Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield)


Balancing the Throat Chakra Thu, 14 Jul 2016 20:20:17 +0000 Continue reading ]]> imagesA spiritual healer observed recently after doing a breathing exercise with me that my throat chakra seemed closed. She explained to me that when the throat chakra is out of balance we have difficulty expressing ourselves.

As I thought about it over the next few days and weeks, I realized how much this resonated with me. It dawned on me that I’ve had one of the most silent years I can ever remember having.

I’ve bypassed several opportunities to present and share my work. My activism has slowed way down. I’ve barely written in this space. I’ve written quite a few things that have gone no further than my desktop. And I’ve spoken with friends and loved ones and not said the things that I really wanted to say. I’ve been undersharing. A lot.

It’s not that I don’t have things to say. It’s not that I haven’t been busy and engaged. It’s just that many of my thoughts seem caught in my head and my words stuck in my throat.

Not good. I’ve gone through times where I’ve lived life out loud and times, like now, where I have retreated. Out loud feels much better. Clamming up feels isolating and disempowering. It’s hard to connect with the rest of the world if you can’t speak your truth. My voice feels like a muscle, much the same as any other in my body. If I don’t use it, it tends to get weaker.

It’s my daughter’s fourteenth birthday today, and she’s away at arts camp. She seems to be having a wonderful time, and for that I’m really grateful.

As a young child she loved being the center of attention, independent, confident, a performer. One of the hardest things about watching her go through her early teen years is watching her lose that – temporarily, I hope.  I know that it is not uncommon for girls to lose their voice as they begin the self-awareness that comes with adolescence. It’s a well-documented phenomenon. Suddenly, they become aware that there is an audience out there that may or may not be judging them. They clam up.

She’s still a performer – she loves to act on stage. But she’s become unwilling to act when the words are her own. She’ll write a play or a poem, but she won’t perform it herself. It’s just too much vulnerability. I get it.

Ahh, vulnerability.

I have a friend who points out a neat bird in the woods whenever he doesn’t want to talk about something.

Wow! I just saw a really cool Great Crested Flycatcher out my office window…..

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Happy Trails Mon, 30 May 2016 10:57:02 +0000 Continue reading ]]> DSC_0036The end goal of much of the work I do is to help build a culture of health. I’m interested in helping to create places where it is easy to eat fresh, healthy food and move your body and where people see the value these things. As simple as that may sound, this sometimes feels like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Helping to create the Pittsboro Farm & Forest Trail this past year felt good. We created a permanent asset for the county for healthy, active outdoor living. Through our successful trail opening celebration, we were able to spread the word around town and we hope it gets used and enjoyed a LOT.

It took almost exactly a year for us to get the trail done. When I say “us,” I generally mean Lyle, who built most of the trail himself. He did have some serious help from Trip, Malcolm, and Arlo. We were lucky to have Dashel, an intern from the UNC Institute for Environmental Studies Field Internship Program. He learned to drive the tractor, spread lots of fines, planted trees, and never once questioned Lyle’s choice of trail fashion. DashelidentifyingHere he is at left gamely simulating tree identification for the camera on a cold winter day. We also had help from Marga and Denise, from the NC Office of Environmental Education Certification Program. We had some volunteers, and some teenagers who were conscripted – “Volun-told” as Austin would say. And we had many, many generous people who donated their time and expertise throughout the year.

Our two nonprofit organizations, Chatham County Partnership for Children, and Abundance NC were working together for the first time. We discovered we had a shared interest in nature, the outdoors, and healthy living, and this trail is what came out of it. Thus far.

“Trail Muse” was the title Lyle gave me. I wrote grants, created spreadsheets, organized, coordinated, made signs. Lyle explained to me at our first meeting that my biggest job would be to keep him on task. I didn’t fully understand the gravity of this assignment. Now I do. In the year since we’ve been working on the trail, it’s true, he’s had about 1000 other ideas for interesting projects. Lyle moves through his world like a brilliant toddler in a toy store. That’s a compliment. A shiny object catches his eye. The synapses start firing…..

The best part for me was meeting tons of interesting people. I am relatively new to this community, and I feel like I got to know it much better. So many people were generous with their time and expertise and encouragement. Sometimes all you need is some enthusiasm.

We definitely got that enthusiasm a couple of Saturdays ago when we celebrated the trail’s opening and that felt great. We started the day with a fun ribbon cutting led by Pittsboro Mayor Cindy Perry and Town Commissioner John Bonitz along with his adorable kiddos. ribbon cutting

Our partners who came and did outreach and led activities made some huge contributions to the event and we look forward to continuing to collaborating with them. Thank you to Learning Outside,, Chatham County Soil and Water Conservation, Chatham County Solid Waste, Chatham County Health Department, Haw River Assembly, Chatham/Orange Sierra Club, Chatham County Fairgrounds, Chatham Conservation Partnership Shakori Hills Community Arts Center and Grand Trees of Chatham.

The Real Official impressed everyone and got everyone up and dancing. They are eighth graders, and they appeared bemused and possibly a little bit appalled about the fifty year olds rocking out to their music, but they kept it together like the pros they are. The spoken word poetry led by Gary Phillips and Paul Richmond added a lot of fun and character to the event. Food from Bella Donna and Breakfast and Beyond was delicious.

The little kids loved the Be Active Kids playmobile, and all of the activities that our partners brought with them. They reveled in unstructured play – especially mud puddle splashing and fort building – and the older ones also got to do some neat stuff like creek sampling with Haw River Assembly.Three kids in a creek

At the trail opening event it felt like we built a miniature culture of health and it was satisfying. Children were playing everywhere outside. Everyone was walking the trail, and talking about what they’d seen on it. Visitors enjoyed fresh, wholesome food from local purveyors and sampled local wines. There was music, and poetry, and dancing. The dessert truck didn’t show up and you know what? Nobody noticed.

We’re not done. There’s much more to do. We hope to connect our little trail to the Robeson Creek Greenway when the Town of Pittsboro expands it. We want to support that project wholeheartedly. We’d like to build an outdoor classroom and a viewing platform for the wetland, improve other areas of the trail, add to the website, and organize programming.

For the moment, we’re celebrating the fact that the the first phase of the trail is complete, the sun came out, and we got to play and dance with our friends and neighbors. At the end of the day, this happened:Rainbown


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Rethinking Slides, Swings, and Jungle Gyms Sun, 10 Jan 2016 15:20:26 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Despite the growing popularity of Crossfit for Preschoolers (yes, this is real), most little ones are still getting their exercise via the good old fashioned playground. But not all playgrounds are not created equal, especially when it comes to promoting physical activity.

I bet you think this playground would really get the kids up and moving:

Plastic playground

And you’d be right. Sort of. The problem is, playgrounds like this get boring, fast, especially if they’re at a school, where kids are on them every day. Here’s a University of Tennessee study that found that “Children who play on playgrounds that incorporate natural elements like logs and flowers tend to be more active than those who play on traditional playgrounds with metal and brightly colored equipment:” Here’s a quick synopsis of that study.

There is good research to show that more naturalized playgrounds have more to
offer. Playgrounds like the one below, with lots of natural elements, have been shown to be extremely positive for children’s mental and physical development. And they’re easier on the eyes, too, aren’t they?

Natural Playground

A project I work on, called Shape NC, is addressing the childhood obesity crisis by helping child care centers be healthier places for young children. Renovating and naturalizing the outdoor learning environment (OLE) is one important strategy of the project. A well designed outdoor learning environment in the toddler and preschool years encourages active play and produces kids who are excited about playing and learning outdoors. Kids who love being outdoors are more likely to grow into adults who love being outdoors which often translates into living a healthier lifestyle.

So what does a well-designed OLE look like? Here in North Carolina we’re really lucky to have help from the folks at NC State’s Natural Learning Initiative who research just that question. They’re looking to discover what elements in an outdoor play area spark not just movement and activity, but also learning and imagination.

curved pathway

The best way to get kids moving and active is a wide, curvy, looped path for wheeled toys to push or ride on. The pathway should be at least four feet wide. Creating a continuous loop encourages children to use it for longer. No stopping and turning around necessary!

veggie gardenAnother key element of a great outdoor learning environment in a preschool is a vegetable
garden. Young children love to get their hands dirty and to water the garden. And they are much more likely to eat a vegetable they’ve grown themselves. Veggie gardens offer endless opportunities for learning about science, nature and health.

Other elements to consider include loose partsloose natural materials for imaginative play like the ones to the left.

A grassy open area open for games is important. Consider a small stage for performing, and maybe a water play area like this cool creekbed creekbedfor splashing.





Natural playgrounds can be surprisingly affordable, especially when you compare them to the cost of great big molded plastic structures. You don’t have to take an all or nothing approach, either. The Natural Learning Initiative’s Green Desk is full of practical ideas and how-to’s.


Ask Not What Your Lunch Lady Can Do For You…. Fri, 17 Jul 2015 11:34:22 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I had an illuminating chat recently with four ladies in our central administration office who have the responsibility – along with the cafeteria staff in each school – for feeding the over 8200 students in the Chatham County, North Carolina school district.

Breakfast and lunch for this hungry horde is orchestrated by just three full-time employees and one contract dietician who were kind enough to sit down with me in the midst of their busy summer planning sessions.

We talked kids, parents, teachers, school food rules, fresh vs. processed, cafeteria staff, procuring local, and more.  My main takeaway was this: we are lucky to have this crew running the show in Chatham County. They’re smart, they know what they’re doing, and they really care.

I’ve made a career out of advocating for access to healthy food and physical activity opportunities, most of all for kids. There is no bigger issue in this space than that of school food. No issue that inspires greater ire among parents, frustration among advocates, and misunderstandings among just about everyone.

First of all, the regulations are bewildering. I’ve spent hours trying to decipher the complicated and ever-changing interplay of nutrition standards and reimbursement rules from the USDA National School Lunch program, North Carolina Board of Ed nutrition programs and rules, and local policies. It pretty much makes my head want to explode, and I’ve been trained as a policy analyst. has a great resource about school lunches that explains the new nutrition guidelines and more. Find it here.

Rules and regulations aside, what I heard is that the nutrition staff in Chatham County, NC would like nothing else than to serve food that is entirely fresh and unprocessed, locally sourced, and totally healthy. Here are just a few of the bigger challenges to that goal:

  1. School nutrition programs have to be self-supporting. Meaning, if the kids don’t buy the food, they have to cut costs. More kids who buy school lunch = better food.
  2. They are limited in the amount of fresh, whole foods they can incorporate into menus by the amount of cafeteria staff they have to prepare it. See barrier #1.
  3. There is currently no farm in Chatham County that has the capacity to provide food to the school system: this farm would have to be large enough to provide the quantities the school needs, able to deliver to every school, and GAP-certified (an expensive, complicated USDA process of ensuring food safety practices are met.

Then there’s the question of kids tastes. As a mom who is frustrated every day by trying to feed my kids, I am aware of what they’re up against: namely, kids palates that have been trained to embrace sweet, salty processed foods. Can kids learn to embrace fresh and healthy? Yes. Is it challenging? Yes. And the ladies made an interesting point here about our county: because it is somewhat culturally and geographically diverse, a menu item that is embraced in one part of the county is often rejected in another.

Now let’s talk marketing. We’ve already established that the lunch program has to pay for itself. To do that, they’ve somehow got to convince parents that the meals are healthy and nutritious and kids that the meals are….not. All with close to zero resources for marketing.

Parents, the bottom line is this: advocating for healthy school food is really important, if this is an issue that you care about. One way to do that is to support your school nutrition program. Have your kids buy food at school, if you can. New nutrition standards are now dictating that school lunches include at least half a cup of fruit and vegetables, include whole grains, and are low in sodium. In fact, the new regulations are so much healthier that school lunch programs are having trouble getting the kids to buy the lunches.

Revenues have dropped in Chatham County by the hundreds of thousands since the new, healthier school meal standards have been implemented. Despite this, the nutrition staff supports them wholeheartedly. They’re working hard to develop healthy menus that the kids will like, and to procure the best possible foods on extremely limited budgets. Approximately 30% of the produce the kids eat in Chatham County schools comes from North Carolina farms, via a USDA program that helps schools procure more local foods.

Could the food be even fresher, healthier, and more delicious? Sure. Should we try to help make that happen? Yes! Start by spending $2.65 a day on lunch at your school’s cafeteria. You will be supporting a local business that touches the lives of virtually every kid in the county.


Back to the Mat Fri, 12 Jun 2015 10:26:55 +0000 Continue reading ]]> imgresI went back to yoga last night after months and months off the mat. I’ve gone through periods where I’ve done yoga daily, in the evenings, before bed. Periods where I go regularly to classes. And months of doing none at all. Habits are funny like that. They can slip away when you’re not looking. The good ones anyway. Bad habits seem to stick like crazy glue.

My aching body told me I had to return to yoga. I’ve been working it hard these past months, playing tennis, going to the gym, and gardening like a fiend. I’m as fit as I’ve ever been but I’ve also got an aching lower back and a sore arm to show for it.

For some reason I’ve been in a mode where I’m perfectly disciplined when it comes to pushing my body but not so good about slowing down and listening to it. I don’t want to get injured and sidelined from doing the things I love. Most of my fellow middle-aged fanatical tennis players (you know who you are) get injured at one time or another and have to take months off at a time, or worse, go through surgeries and rehabilitation. I’m really, really trying to avoid that, and I think yoga can help.

I’ve taken yoga from a number of great teachers in my town. But, in this case, I knew exactly which teacher I needed to go to: Cathy Holt. In addition to being an excellent yoga instructor, she requires that you purchase a series of classes, as opposed to just dropping in. This system keeps you accountable! So now, yoga is on my calendar. Tuesdays at 5:30. And once it’s on my calendar, it’s happening.

I do love yoga. I’ve never been successful at meditating the real way sitting down, but I love a moving meditation when I walk, run or practice yoga. Since I’ve been practicing, on and off, for maybe 15 years or so, I know the moves well enough that I can hear what the instructor is telling me to do in a sort of dream state. It takes a while when you start practicing to get to that place. I found yoga very challenging at first. It takes a while to get comfortable enough that you can relax, breathe, be mindful, and really feel the benefits from it.

Class was great. My lower back groaned when I went into a forward bend and I couldn’t get my left knee down into firelogs, much less a lotus position, if my life depended on it. I wasn’t in the least bit present, or mindful. My monkey mind was jumping from tree to tree the whole time. And I can’t wait to go back next Tuesday.

Writing in this blog is another thing I love which has fallen away lately. I want to change that. My writing may be shorter, less pithy and more posty, and I apologize for that. But writing is a muscle like any other that needs to be exercised. Right now my writing muscle is groaning much like my back last week in class. But that’s ok.

I am here, now.





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Mom Power at the Good Food Force Meeting of Tue, 18 Nov 2014 21:31:16 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Good Food ForceI was privileged to attend the recent meeting of the Good Food Force, a group of dynamic volunteers dedicated to getting the word out about healthy school foods, junk food marketing to kids, and strategies that are working to reduce childhood obesity. Through workshops, discussions and sharing our experiences, MomsRising armed us with motivation, inspiration, tools and resources (see below for some of the best) to advocate for change in our communities.

We were a diverse group, every one of us with a unique story to tell about why we were there and what we were working on in our own communities – but we were united in our desire to use our mom power to advocate for healthy food for kids.

What we were not united about? What exactly “healthy food” means.

It was clear from the conversations and comments that “healthy” meant entirely different things to different people in the room. Not surprising, given that among nutrition experts, what’s healthy and what’s not is a source of never-ending debate.

So what does this mean for our work as food activists? Can we leverage that collective mom power as the “Good Food Force,” while working for change that is going to look very different in our respective communities, depending on the opinions of those who are leading the charge and the circumstances and realities that we’re facing in our different locales?

MomRising Good Food Force

MomsRising Good Food Force

I think we can. In fact I’m sure of it. It is worth noting that despite this elephant in the room, we did not once get bogged down in open debate about what we did and did not consider healthy. There was tacit agreement, among all of us, that, details aside, we were all working for the same thing – ensuring that food contributes to, rather than detracts from, the health of our kids. MomsRising is helping to arm us with the skills, the resources, and the mom power juju to determine our own strategies for promoting healthy food for kids in our communities and to move that strategy forward, whatever it may be.

Messaging around healthy food is complex. It’s unlike, say, the public health campaign to reduce smoking. That one is pretty simple, boiling down to a message that everyone can get behind: don’t smoke because it will likely lead to your premature death.

I’m pragmatic (ok maybe skeptical at times), so when in doubt, I will default to the evidence base. Shaping policy is really hard. Stories and personal anecdotes really help policy makers see the issue. Solid evidence from reputable sources arguably helps even more. There are a lot of opinions out there about what is healthy and what is not. Some of these opinions are probably true, but are unfortunately not yet backed up by good research. Having a policy agenda that is solidly backed by science makes advocacy a lot easier.

Here are some of the great organizations we heard from at the meeting where you can find research and resources:

Kids Safe and Healthful Foods Project
Rudd Roots Parents
Voices for Healthy Kids
Corporate Accountability International
Center for Science in the Public Interest

Lots of food activists – and activists of all kinds – bring a passion and big thinking to the table that I truly admire. They’ll stick to their agenda without compromise, no matter how steep the hill to climb. Whether or not the scientific community has been able to get around to proving what they know to be true.

We need both passion and pragmatism in this work. And we need to deploy all the mom power we have to advocate for healthy food for kids. Because whatever that means to you, its got to be better than what’s out there now.

What does healthy food mean to you and your family? What about in your school or community? 





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When Pears are as Exotic as Rainbows and Unicorns Mon, 20 Oct 2014 20:21:46 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I have mixed feelings about the annual “Eat a Rainbow Week” our local health department organizes in our community. It’s a week of events designed to promote fruit and vegetable eating – in schools, restaurants, farmer’s markets, etc. This is the second year I’ve served on the planning committee, and this year I also organized some special events in the preschools and child care centers I work with.

Even as I participate enthusiastically I fret about the message we are sending – that fruit and vegetables are something special to be eaten during “Eat a Rainbow Week” when really they should be nothing special at all. They should not be celebrated, just eaten, every day, a regular part of our daily lives, a part of our food culture. How has it come to this – that we have to organize incentives and special events for people to eat fresh foods. Are we promoting a culture of health or highlighting just outside the norm that healthy eating has become?

In between overthinking the whole thing I spent a happy and illuminating week visiting preschools and child care centers with paper sacks of fruits and veggies, letting the children guess what was inside, encouraging them to taste it. I loved seeing every one of their bright, shiny, beautiful faces. I loved the refreshing honesty with which some of them told me on no uncertain terms that they had no intention of eating the yucky red cabbage I’d brought, no matter how pretty it was.

It’s part of my job to help child care centers improve the quality of the foods they serve, and during Eat a Rainbow Week I got a real taste of the challenge facing them. Anyone who’s ever tried to feed a young child knows there’s a huge variation in what kids will eat.

When I sit with child care centers to suggest ways they might improve the nutritional content of their menus I hear a lot about those challenges – picky preschool palates, tight budgets, allergies, and regulations, regulations, and more regulations. There’s a reimbursement program that dictates what they can serve, and it is at best, several years behind current nutritional research.

They all want to do the right thing for the kids.

This week I got a good taste of the picky palates part of the equation. I’m still dealing with this at home with my two kids, even though they are long past the age when their palates should be so picky. Imagine trying to feed 10, 20, or 50 three and four year olds!

I had some “star” vegetable eaters during my fruit and veggie tastings. It was easy to pick out the ones that were given a lot of veggies at home – they were familiar with what was in the bags, had tried many of them. Some told me proudly about the gardens their families had at home. Others looked at the carrots and pears I brought as if they were unicorns.

Events like Eat a Rainbow Week help. Policies that help child care centers and schools serve fresh fruits and vegetables help more. Making it easy for families to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at prices as affordable as big macs helps even more. The list goes on.

Next year, many of these kids will enter elementary school. Even with new rules brought about by passage of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act last year, they’ll be served plenty of pizza and chicken nuggets. Those whose parents can afford it can send them with money to buy cookies and ice cream. As kids will be kids it’ll be hard for the fresh pears to compete.


Do Your Clothes Move You? Sat, 17 May 2014 14:53:05 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I was intrigued by a recent headline in the New York Times “Well” section reporting on a study about exercise and blood sugar, Exercise ‘Snacks’ to Control Blood Sugar. It described a study showing that short bits of exercise during the day – a couple of minutes or so, were very effective at controlling blood sugar, more so than one hour or so long session. What kind of exercise? “Any activity that rapidly raises your heart rate and leaves you panting and sweaty for 60 seconds,” apparently. Interesting, but a little impractical, for many of us who get dressed in the morning in office attire and makeup hoping for a day free of panting and sweaty moments.

This study joins many others touting the benefits of being active throughout the day. The research and the message seems clear: being sedentary all day is really bad for your health. Our fabulous human brains have made it possible to do a lot of work using those brains and only those brains, but we neglect and abuse the other parts of our body to our peril.

I’m lucky in this arena, because I work at home. Typically I’ll break up my desk work with short bursts of physical housework, gardening, or a quick walk to the bus stop to meet the kids.

When I made the shift to working at home the thing that was most liberating for me was being able to dress in such a way that I could be comfortably active throughout the day.

If I don’t have meetings, my uniform is yoga pants and sneakers. Yes, guilty as charged, I’m one of those annoying mom types walking around in yoga pants. But here’s the deal: when I’m able to wear this uniform, I’m much, much more likely to fit in small amounts of physical activity into my day. If I’m dressed for a meeting, forget it. I’m going from my desk to my car and back again and that’s it.

When I used to work in an office, I kept a pair of sneakers under my desk and took a walk at lunch when I had the time. But whether I went for that walk or not would definitely also depend on if I was wearing something comfortable enough to walk in that day.

Fashions are always changing, and the long term trend is undeniably towards more casual and more comfortable.  But that’s the least true for office workers, those sedentary sitters who need to move the most. Aware of the evidence that healthy employees are more valuable and productive, lots of workplaces are starting to look at helping employees get a little bit active during the work day. Relaxing the dress code whenever possible seems like an obvious place to start.

I recently bought a pair of “Dress Yoga Pants” and they’re pretty cool. With a pair of comfortable shoes , I think they’ll be fine for exercise snacking. They’d be acceptable attire in any of the offices I’ve ever worked in (admittedly more casual ones like public relations and public health).

But here’s where I think our clothing choices could make the biggest difference in physical activity levels: among our kids in school. I began to notice something early on in my daughter’s school career: on non-PE days, she wanted to wear flip-flops, or uncomfortable looking ballet flats or boots to school. Well, guess what all the girls who are wearing that fashion-forward footwear are doing on the playground during recess? You guessed it: not much.  If schools mandated sneakers every day, I’m pretty certain that kids would be more active during recess.

So how about it, Michelle Obama? Can we start a public health campaign about wearing sneakers to school? I bet we could get the athletic shoe companies to chip in for that!



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North Carolina DHHS Secretary’s Obesity Fix: Let’s Move the Vending Machines Somewhere Out Of Sight Thu, 27 Mar 2014 18:05:06 +0000 Continue reading ]]> I recently attended the North Carolina Institute of Medicine Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Summit in Raleigh and had the pleasure of hearing our state’s Secretary of Health and Human Services explain to the audience of childhood obesity prevention experts that childhood obesity was a problem.

It’s a rookie mistake I’ve made myself and seen many, many others make: quoting public health statistics (in this case, many of them, and at length) to an audience that lives and breathes those statistics every day.

I could see that the statistics were maybe a little new to Aldona Wos, and for good reason. Since being appointed by Governor Pat McCrory in January of 2013 she’s been too busy putting out fires, many of her own making, to pay much attention to obesity prevention. Unfortunately for those of us who work in chronic disease prevention, the non-emergency nature of our work sometimes causes it to take a backseat to other pressing public health problems such as mailing the wrong Medicaid cards to 50,000 families.

Unfortunately I’m writing this mostly from memory because these were the only notes I could bring myself to scrawl during her speech:

wtfWhat I do remember is that she made the audience members around me gasp and mutter under their breath. Repeatedly.

We’d spent the morning hearing the IOM’s new recommended strategies for action to prevent early childhood obesity. A task force of distinguished clinicians, public health experts, academics, and policy analysts had spent months analyzing data, sharing their expertise, and formulating a list of clinical, environmental, community, and policy strategies, each presented in a paper with detailed justification. Many members of that task force were in the audience, and most of the others in the audience were public health practitioners and clinicians specializing in obesity prevention.

After we spent the morning being presented with these experts’ proposed state policy solutions, Wos took to the stage to tell us that “We will not stem the tide with only state or federal solutions. That will not work. All of this starts with personal responsibility and good parenting.” (I’m glad the Raleigh News-Observer was taking notes).

Later, what Secretary Wos told this audience, many of whom had dedicated their lives to understanding obesity from an evidence-based perspective, was that when it comes to obesity prevention, we needed to use “common sense” and follow “the wisdom of our grandmothers.”

She backed up this point with an anecdote illustrating the lack of common sense she’d seen demonstrated by some unfortunate local government entity. She had recently visited a new public facility where nutrition and healthy cooking classes were taught, where she’d been appalled to see a vending machine in plain sight in the lobby selling the usual vending machine junk. Her takeaway and her advice? Move the vending machine somewhere else, where it wasn’t in sight of the healthy cooking class.

Hopefully, her daily emergencies will continue to distract her so much that she’ll stay out of the way of the smart and hard-working DHHS employees who are working to combat obesity. Some of whom have fought uphill battles for years to get the vending machines in North Carolina’s own state government buildings not just out of sight but actually emptied of junk and filled with healthy items.



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