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Moses Lake, WA: CDC Anti-Obesity Money Used to Create CG Program

  • Subject: [cg] Moses Lake, WA: CDC Anti-Obesity Money Used to Create CG Program
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2004 08:04:57 EST

[This is a test to see if the ACGA listserv is up and running this morning]


Moses Lake accepts challenge to eat better and get more exercise
Monday, November 15, 2004


MOSES LAKE -- From the freeway, there are no obvious signs that Moses Lake is a town determined to shape up and lose weight. Fast and fatty food options -- McDonald's, Arby's and Burger King -- dot the approach from Interstate 90.

But a couple of miles off the highway, across the street from City Hall, sits a garden.

Or, more precisely, it's about half a block split into many mini-gardens.

The plots are tended by 50 or so residents who enthusiastically offer up the size of their parsnips and the amount of morning sun their crops bask in.

This rectangular slice of land is the most vital site of a citywide effort started three years ago to eat better and exercise more.

"Safeway, eat your heart out," said Jeanne Segal, showing off a bounty of root vegetables.

It's no quick fix, no fad diet, but rather an attempt to gradually transform lifestyles.

In the national war against obesity, folks in Moses Lake are the foot soldiers.

The city of 16,000 is the first in Washington state selected for a pilot fat-fighting program using seed money from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"People don't seem to have time to get out and do the things that are better for their health," said Bill Jones, a retired farmer. "They're just not getting out unless they have a reason, and this kind of gardening gives people a reason."

About eight years ago, Jones moved to a mobile-home park in town with little room for a garden. Now, in two plots in the center of town, courtesy of the government, he grows tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and squash.

It may not be dramatic, but what's happening in Moses Lake could be a model for cities around the state and the nation.

Washington was among the first group of states to receive grants three years ago to address obesity. The money, $2.6 million so far, is meant to spur programs that turn the tide of obesity by promoting physical activity and healthy eating.

In addition to Moses Lake, which has received about $135,000, the grant money has been spread across the state to plan safe bicycle routes to schools, train child care providers to cut kids' television time and to make it easier to get around on foot.

"The ultimate goal is to create an environment that provides the healthy choice as the easy choice," said Kyle Unland, obesity prevention coordinator for the state. "It's kind of like, if you build it, they will come.

"We've always gone right to the individual and said this is how you exercise more and eat better," Unland said. "But here we are with our obesity rates still rising with a population getting heavier and more sedentary."

Why Moses Lake?

Data aren't available yet to indicate how many of Moses Lake's citizens are overweight, but statewide, 59 percent of adults are either overweight or obese (compared with 65 percent nationwide).

Located 180 miles from Seattle smack in the heart of Eastern Washington, Moses Lake is relatively isolated, making it a good candidate to launch the state's big-picture approach to obesity. It's small enough to gauge significant community involvement and far enough away from anyplace to rule out the influence of a neighboring city.

Mount Vernon in Skagit County is next up in the state to tackle obesity using the federal grant.

In addition to the community garden, Moses Lake chose to focus on breast-feeding -- some studies suggest that breast-feeding might decrease a child's odds of obesity later in life -- and improving an existing system of walking and biking trails.

Several businesses have set aside rooms for mothers to breast-feed while shopping downtown.

The city has printed trail maps, posted signs to walking spots around the lake and plans to link up pathways that now dead-end.

Residents can rent the garden plots for $5 to $20 a year; the city pays for water.

On a Sunday afternoon in early November, the sun is out, but the city's garden plots are brown and dry. It's the end of the growing season, and the gardeners are pulling their last crops from the ground.

Agriculture still drives the local economy in Moses Lake. But these gardens represent an altogether different, more intimate relationship with the land. Here, the gardeners grow food they will put on the dinner table, not send out to market.

"You can go out and pick your carrots, chop them up and put them in a soup, rather than going to the grocery store," said Andrew Bechyne, a city park employee. "You think about what you have in the garden rather than what's easy."

Government agencies often suggest regimens for staying fit: 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. In truth, America's weight gain has less to do with daily visits to the gym than daily routines that require very little or no activity.

Cultivating crops by hand might not burn as many calories as running or playing tennis, but an evening spent hoeing, raking and planting is also time spent away from the couch.

"I'm not a walker or a hiker or a biker," said Jones, the retired farmer. "That's for young people," he said while chopping down dead stalks with a machete in a friend's plot.

Jones and Ellie Chadwick, a retired school librarian, got to know each other at the garden on early summer mornings while everyone else was dashing off to work.

Chadwick said she used to spend her mornings drinking coffee and watching television.

"I hated it," she said. "This has really been good for me. I think it's the best thing Moses Lake has ever done."

Alicia Perkins said her daughter, 6-year-old Maurissa Russ, has always liked vegetables, but caring for a pumpkin patch with her Girl Scout troop has piqued her curiosity about the purple-leafed lettuce and bright yellow squash she spies in neighboring plots.

"In my family, we fight a weight problem," Perkins said. "I like this because it's teaching her how to eat healthy. It's making her willing to try new things."

Other than former Mayor Lee Blackwell, who lost 35 pounds to promote Moses Lake's new healthy living approach, there's little direct evidence of a collective slim-down.

But no one expects to see immediate results, anyway. It could take a decade before the town's efforts are reflected in survey data.

And that's not the point, Goodwin said.

"If we've made a difference in policy and environment, that's the goal," Goodwin said. "There won't be a scale weighing people, no."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part of an occasional series on the nation's obesity crisis and how people in the Northwest are affected. See earlier stories.


P-I reporter Julie Davidow can be reached at 206-448-8180 or juliedavidow@seattlepi.com

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