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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Striving for health should be community effort
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By Sarah Colby

At this time of year, many of us are thinking about our health and our habits. Maybe you have made a New Year's resolution or two. Are you planning to start eating healthier and being more active?

If so, you will be among many millions of other people trying to make these same changes.

How do we make these kinds of changes? What makes it easier and what makes it harder? Many people have a hard time losing weight and keeping it off.

Researchers at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center are trying to help answer these questions.

Why do we try to lose weight? Is it about how we look? People are beautiful in all shapes and sizes; however, body weight can effect health. Obesity increases the risk to heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. It has reached epidemic proportions. Nearly one-third of all adults in the United States are obese, costing the economy an estimated $100 billion every year.

Why this is happening is complex, but most experts agree that it does come down to the fact that people are eating more calories than they are using up.

But we know this, right? We hear these slogans "Eat Less, Move More." It may be that simple, but it is not that easy.

So, how do we make it happen? Many people turn to fad diets. Many fad diets may not be healthy, and most people who do lose weight on a fad diet soon gain it back.

Instead, we need to make small changes that we can live with long term. Small changes can add up to big differences. Most of us know what we need to do: eat more fruits and vegetables, drink less sugary drinks, cut back on portion sizes, eat less fried food, less saturated fat, more whole grain foods, and find enjoyable physical activities and do them often. These basic ideas are presented in the USDA's MyPyramid (

Knowledge alone is not enough. We need support all around us that help us stick with our healthy choices. This support that helps us needs to be part of our daily lives, our environment and our community.

Several efforts currently are under way to promote healthier lifestyles in the Grand Forks area. A coalition of community leaders concerned about a healthy Greater Grand Forks has emerged, and UND, the North Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Service, the Grand Forks Public Health Department and the Grand Forks School District are all involved in promoting health and wellness in our community.

Toward that goal, the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center recently conducted a focus group to talk about local health concerns. The group identified several concerns: lack of physical activity, overweight/obesity, diabetes, alcohol abuse, limited access to dental care and high blood pressure.

The participants also said community health promotions needed clear, simple and nonconflicting messages. They called for more research on why certain diet patterns yield health benefits; why people gain, lose and regain weight; and how to make healthy behavior changes. Most of the group's concerns were for the health of children.

The number of overweight and obese children has been increasing since the mid-1970s. Some 16 percent of American children and adolescents are overweight, and obesity is being seen in preschoolers. Being obese early in life is associated obesity in later life and with increased risk for heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes in adulthood.

We at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center are committed to developing effective, community-based, obesity prevention research programs in collaboration with the other institutions, agencies and individuals that are also committed to enhancing the health of our community. In developing such programs, we need to understand community needs.

Last Modified: 1/11/2006
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