Aside from personal choices, the environment also plays a big part in one’s ability to be physically active or not, according to Patricia Coleman of the Northern Marianas College-Cooperative Research Education and Extension Service’s Family Consumers Sciences Program.
Speaking at the Saipan Rotary Club’s weekly meeting at the Hyatt Regency Saipan yesterday, Coleman said the environment—more precisely the build environment—is a factor in an individual’s physiological makeup.
“Health is really affected by the environment. I know for many years the orientation was based on personal choice but what we continue to find in the scientific literature is that environment also affects these things.”
Coleman, who is the NMC-CREES nutrition and health programs team leader, cited the workplace as an example and the presence of vending machines becoming the default choice of employees because they don’t have time to go out and eat or drink a healthier alternative.
She didn’t go that far in her next example, as the snack bar at NMC, she said, also provides students and teachers on campus some not-so-healthy choices of food items
“Many of our students stay there from morning to evening and their choices are about 98 percent sugar-sweetened beverages and they also have a lot of candies, cookies, and stuff. They also have a little bowl of fruit to appease who they call nutrition purists.”
Coleman also cited the community’s seeming aversion to walking, even for short distances. She, however, blamed this on two factors that are clearly due to the build environment.
“We don’t see people walking because there’s no sidewalk. So it becomes a safety issue. We also have dogs that are not tied up. …So if I wanted to walk 20 feet to the mom-and-pop store with my family and I have six children, ranging in age from 1 to 14 years old, can I walk the road safely? If there are dogs that’s going to attack me and my family, perhaps not…I have to get into my car and drive 20 feet.”
Coleman said these three examples clearly show how the build environment influences one’s ability to be active.
“We manage as a society to engineer physical activity out of our daily routine. We have remotes to turn on remotes. We also have clap-on devices. We have all these things.”
Coleman also talked about the Beach Road pathway and how many people on Saipan still don’t have access to it.
“Even though we have that beautiful pathway, for many people who don’t have the resources it becomes a barrier. If I have to drive from a village to get to the pathway to be physically active, that requires a conscious choice.”
In practical terms, she said, what Children’s Healthy Living Program is trying to do is to make the healthy choice not only the default choice but the easy, affordable, and accessible choice as well.