Grassroots Revolution Continues
By Ken Walker-
Now that three years have passed since Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution aired on ABC Television, it is reasonable to ask whether many people around Huntington still care about healthy lifestyles. Is the excitement that stirred then still alive?
After participating in the volunteer crew that helped stage the latest Healthy Huntington Day in mid-April, I can answer in the affirmative. (To see photos from the finish line, click here.)
The grassroots group that put together the latest “90-Day Challenge” operated on a barebones budget. Yet, thanks to their encouragement, residents reported losing more than 900 pounds during the 90-day period.
Running For Health
Since Oliver’s show, so many 5-K and 10-K races have sprung up that our city attracted the nickname, “Runnington.” Aside from the cold that freezes out January and February races, there is some kind of run in the city or within a 50-mile radius nearly every weekend of the year.
However, there is a drawback to that. There are so many races now that it sometimes limits participation in an individual event. So, with a minimum of publicity, for more than 200 participants to show up on a chilly Saturday morning in April is impressive.
Once the racers started flocking to the registration table, it got difficult to keep track of numbers, but it appeared that as many runners signed up that morning as had pre-registered.
It wasn’t just the crush of people in the last hour before the race started, but the spirit I observed while handing out ribbons to everyone at the finish line that impressed me.
One running coach who accompanied a number of runners to the event commented on several people who were running their first race. Not only did they come in with smiles on their faces, there was genuine excitement among their fellow runners when they finished, regardless of their time.
I saw about a dozen women wearing light blue shirts emblazoned with “Live to Lose.” Turns out they were from River Cities Community Church, where our oldest daughter volunteers in a mid-week children’s program. They were radiating smiles and excitement, too.
During our brief conversation the woman who told me about the group mentioned how much easier it was for them “to get through this together.” This kind of weight-loss-and-exercise group reflects the outcome of the grassroots effort that started at First Baptist Church of Kenova more than four years ago.
It also demonstrates a principle that Steve Willis—pastor of First Baptist Kenova—brought out in our book, Winning the Food Fight: one of the necessary components of weight loss is the support and encouragement of other people.
This kind of thing happens so quietly that it almost goes unnoticed. I don’t know how many people make the connection. Yet in recent times I have heard about several area hospitals, businesses and organizations sponsoring “Biggest Loser” competitions, which is another example of how Oliver’s show has sparked long-term dividends.
What kind? Oliver’s Food Revolution Team has written about it, noting, “While obesity rates continue to rise across the country, Huntington has begun to see a reversal of the trend. The 2008 CDC report measured the adult obesity rate at 46 percent of the population, and while there is still work to be done, a new Gallup report shows that it has dropped to 36 percent. There is still a long way to go, but it’s a significant improvement. It’s a huge step in the right direction, and one that Huntington should be proud of!”
There are other steps, like the downtown space that served as Oliver’s studio during filming becoming Huntington’s Kitchen. It has become a community hub, offering not only healthy cooking classes year-round, but hosting wedding receptions and other events, including registration for the mid-April race.
This doesn’t mean our city is a bastion of health. Obesity rates are still too high and fast-food restaurants still too prevalent. Yet as a Chinese philosopher once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”