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How is fitness defined with respect to human health and sustainability?

We have chosen two indicators of community fitness to examine at this stage: physical activity levels and obesity rates. In addition, although diabetes is considered a non-communicable disease, we have included it in our discussion of fitness because of its high correlation to obesity. While other indicators of fitness such as health behavior (i.e. smoking and drug use) may prove important in determining sustainability of a human population, diabetes, obesity and physical activity were chosen due to their interdependence on one another and availability of data.

Diabetes is a medical condition characterized by the body's inability to produce or use insulin, which is a hormone necessary for the body's metabolism. Obesity is a condition of excess body fat and is determined by calculating one's body mass index (BMI). A person with a BMI of greater than 29.9 is considered obese. Physical activity includes many types of physical exercise, all of which result in cardiovascular, endurance and numerous other health benefits.


Why should obesity be considered a factor in assessing the sustainability of a community?

The prevalence of obesity within a community not only indicates poor nutritional and physical fitness habits among a population, but it also adversely affects overall economic vitality. A report commissioned by Be Active North Carolina has cited increasing rates of obesity among adults have cost North Carolina $24.1 billion dollars a year due to increased medical costs, lost worker productivity, and increased workers' compensation claims. The price tag for obesity among children has cost the state over $38 million dollars a year (see "Group says state is paying heavy price for obesity, sloth", Fitness References). The costs for obesity are also projected to increase by 50% by 2008, given current nutritional and fitness trends. Thus, in order to combat these trends and prevent further risks to health and economic vitality, Be Active North Carolina has advocated for improved physical fitness education in public schools, initiation of fitness programs among employers, and the promotion of state and initiatives and policies emphasizing health and fitness.

Research has also indicated that obesity is more prevalent among lower income populations, mainly due to lack of nutritional knowledge and the relative cheapness and accessibility of foods with high sugar and fat contents, namely "fast foods". (See "Eat Smart, Move More... North Carolina", Fitness References) Thus, not only does the prevalence of obesity reflect the physical health of a community, it can also allude to underlying issues dealing with social justice and education.


Why should physical activity be considered a factor in assessing the sustainability of a community?

Physical activity, along with a healthy diet, is the primary determinant of fitness with respect to diabetes and obesity. While other behavioral choices have an influence, a sedentary lifestyle will almost assuredly lead to obesity given the dietary patterns of our society, which can result in the development of obesity-linked disorders, including Type II diabetes.


How are diabetes, obesity and physical activity related with respect to human health and sustainability?

The incidence of rates of obesity, diabetes, and amount of physical activity are interrelated indicators of sustainability. Physical activity, along with other fitness components such as diet, has a direct influence upon obesity and diabetes and, in turn, the health problems associated with these conditions. Diabetes, obesity, and physical activity rates indicate the presence or absence of a sustainable mind-set within a community. This mind-set can also be demonstrated by the availability and accessibility of bike lanes, sidewalks, and public parks within a community, which promote physical activity and reduce rates of obesity and Type II Diabetes. These design features of a community promote decreased use of vehicles within the community, which correlates with decreased levels of air emissions and miles of paved roads. Public parks and community recreation centers not only promote physical activity, but also provide a social outlet for members of a community. If these centers are widely available to many members within a diverse demographic scale, then they can also promote social justice. Furthermore, these indicators could provide insight into primary and secondary educational systems, with emphasis on physical and nutritional education. Through the implementation of healthy meals, adequate funding for physical and nutritional education classes and increased emphasis on student recreational activities and sports teams, schools could effectively promote a healthy and sustainable mindset.


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UNC Chapel Hill: Enst 94/Envr 95 Capstone, Fall 2005

Last Updated: December 17, 2005 (K.N.Baer)