2011 Writing Contest: Be the Change You Want to See

First Place Essay

Come Run With Me

Joe Struttmann, Westerville Central High School, Westerville, OH (Teacher: Jim Grannis)

Today in America we face a number of serious problems, but none is more physically obvious than obesity. Today, more than 190 million Americans are either overweight or obese. That is nearly two-thirds of our entire population. Well, I'm quite sure that you have heard statistics like this before, but what options do we have out there to solve this problem? Most solutions that are out there require a fundamental change throughout a community, and this is accomplished by a community pulling together and saying, "Hey, enough is enough, let's tackle this problem head on!" But where could you possibly start such a radical change in your community?

Well, I feel as though I have inadvertently stumbled upon a solution to this problem. During my sophomore year of high school, I decided to join the cross-country team, just so I would have something to keep myself in shape for track season in the spring. Having never been the runner type in my life, I assumed that I would be putting the miles in just to stay in shape and to "compete" in the meets on Saturday mornings. I couldn't have been more wrong! To you, running probably sounds more like a chore than a workout, but by joining the team, I became friends with many people on the team, and we developed into one of the so-called "training groups." Every day, we go out for a run, but it feels like I'm just hangin' with my guys, talkin', jokin' around, you know, just havin' a good ole time. This environment of friends keeps me running more than the desire to get better. If I didn't have these friends, I would likely decide to "get better tomorrow."

Now, I probably have you wondering why I started off about obesity and then went on about personal experiences. Well, most efforts to stop obesity or at least prevent obesity levels from increasing are done at the community level. So why couldn't I start a community-based running/walking club? Today, there are a variety of social networking sites, in particular Facebook, which millions of us use every day. One thing that Facebook allows users to do is create 'groups" that send messages to members of these groups. They also allow members to collaborate amongst themselves with a "group wall" that all members can write on. Now, you can't just join these groups; a member of the group must add you to it, but this could be used as a challenge to the individual being added, a challenge to compete against their friends and have fun at the same time. With this group or groups, we can get the message out for members to meet at predetermined locations around Westerville, such as the rec center, schools, or local metro parks. These Facebook groups do not have to be limited to just teens and young adults I could get together several group members and their parents to get a group started for older individuals. This would allow for those who work during the day to have some way to bond with friends or even co-workers in a different, competitive environment. The same method of adding members to these groups would be used, and with older generations being less likely to have a Facebook page, we could set up an independent website with the running group's meeting times and locations, even race times or pictures of group events. This will allow access to anyone with a computer and will allow adults without Facebook to stay informed. Using the means of technology, this group will keep members informed and motivated to keep running on the path to a healthy lifestyle, since running is one of the best forms of exercise.

Now, if we were to start this in our community, what else could follow in its footsteps? All it takes to start a change in a community is to get the ball rolling; if were to start this, what could come next in this healthy lifestyle atmosphere? I would predict that some other member(s) of the community would come forward and begin a change in our community's eating habits, perhaps through the meals in the schools, the foods that are stocked in our grocery stores, or even by starting a community garden. I can't guarantee this would actually happen, but I feel it is a very real possibility indeed.

So if friends and an active and healthy lifestyle aren't enough to motivate you to do this, isn't there a monetary benefit to staying healthy? Yes, my friend, there is. On average, an overweight or obese person will spend an extra $10,000 in medical costs just dealing with their diseases. On top of this, they will pay extra for life insurance, and it will cost them or their employers more to cover their health insurance premiums. Obesity costs Americans $147 billion each year, and this figure is likely to skyrocket as obesity rates climb in this country. Studies show that the costs of being overweight also include psychological ones. Overweight or obese people are more likely to have depression and body image problems; even more worrisome, they are less productive than a healthy person. This is because when you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, which put you in a better mood as well as make you feel more productive. Overall, the message to employers should be that a staff of healthy people will cost you less, be more productive, and will be all-around happier. So why wouldn't you, as an employer, want your employees to join some sort of running/walking club?

Using popular social networking sites, we can get members of the community to be more active. Creating this community-based running club will spur locals to get healthy and, in the process, make some new friends, and even get closer to the ones they already have. Not only will the people in the community be healthier, but they will likely live out happier lives by having fewer psychological issues, being more productive and active, being less stressed-all of which reduce our draw on health care. If this model of a club that utilizes social networking sites to communicate amongst its members is successful in our community, I foresee many other communities across America following in our footsteps to create organizations modeled after this one. This is how change is started: one person, one club, one community at a time.