Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions and health care costs to address this issue have now reached $14 billion a year.

But ordinary citizens have discovered an unexpected solution to this national problem: walkable neighborhoods.

By forming walking clubs, Americans are not only losing weight, they are also fighting crime and creating safer communities.

In Bakersfield, California, two mothers started a walking group, initially to improve their families’ health – and they ended up building a better neighborhood for everyone. When they first started out, however, the group ran into roadblocks: aggressive dogs, broken bottles, and broken lights as well as drug and gang activity. So the mothers, Gena Perez and Leticia Encima, stepped out of their comfort zones and contacted the police, parks and animal control departments to start tackling those problems, according to a report on the group published in Children’s Advocate (March-April 2008).

While they had to be persistent, the group kept working together until the broken lights got fixed, dogs were restricted, police patrols increased, and park maintenance improved. Now, more than 60 members participate in the Greenfield Walking Group which started from the efforts of two determined mothers. Besides learning better nutrition and exercise habits, group members also got to know their neighbors and developed a network of support.

Those moms demonstrated how important it is for parents to become actively involved in their communities – and their children’s lives. Children need involved adults to role model a healthy life style to help them make healthy choices. The path to healthier lives starts at home and support can be found in the neighborhood.

Some children lack self-confidence and use food to feel better. Overeating and avoiding exercise, can become self-destructive habits. Obesity can lead to Type 2 diabetes and an increase in asthma and heart problems. Education can help, but it will not solve the problem entirely. It is up to parents to get active with their children – and to build a circle of support around them.

When we start walking together, we encourage each other. We begin to feel better and sleep better. Life becomes more enjoyable as we develop healthy relationships. Walking is a fun way to learn about your neighborhood, so…

1. Invite one or two of your friends to join you
2. Ask more neighbors to take part and form a regular walking group
3. Plan your schedule and walk together several times a week
4. Map your neighborhood – Check out safe destinations, crosswalks, and traffic; and avoid hot spots
5. Evaluate neighborhood safety, stay alert and stay together
6. Compare notes on nutrition and share healthy recipes
7. Include children after school and on weekends

Start today. Be the example you want to see in your child’s life. Progress happens when we take one step at a time.

If you think good nutrition and exercise are important, so will your children. They will learn that exercise can be fun as they make connections with other adults. You and your neighbors will become a visible presence, which will help deter crime while also helping the neighborhood network of support for families grow stronger.

Author's Bio: 

Stephanie Mann is the author of three crime prevention books:
-Alternative to Fear, the book that helped launch the Neighborhood Watch movement;
-Safe Homes, Safe Neighborhoods, a comprehensive handbook for making your home and community safer;
-Street Safe Kids, a 10-step guide to promote teen safety.

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