A small Alaskan city that prides itself on world-class king salmon fishing is the starting point of a 10-week, cross-county tour for Miriam E. Nelson, PhD, director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Prevention at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. Beginning today in Kenai, Alaska, Nelson’s StrongWomen Across America tour aims to initiate grass-roots, community-wide changes in the food and physical activity environments of eight rural communities.
“Considering 67% of Americans are either overweight or obese, a vast number of people must make immediate individual lifestyle changes for their health, but the effort we put in as individuals will only take us so far,” says Nelson, who developed the StrongWomen Initiative, a research-based exercise and nutrition program offered in 40 states that helps women reduce the risk of chronic disease as they age. “The latest research tells us the obesity crisis is mainly a product of habits we develop based on our social environments of family and friends as well as our physical environments, many of which offer few options for exercise.”
Nelson selected Kenai and the seven additional stops in Montana, Colorado, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania based on the presence of active StrongWomen programs in those areas. Longtime StrongWomen leaders have recruited local women to form what Nelson is calling Change Clubs.
“The Change Clubs are groups of 10 to 15 women who are committed to staying fit, strong and healthy and to motivate others to adopt a healthier lifestyle,” says Nelson, who is also a professor at the Friedman School. “We envision them as the catalysts of community-wide environmental changes, which will include providing healthier food for local concession stands, food standards for afterschool programs or spearheading the construction of new sidewalks or bike paths to encourage physical activity.”
Traveling by car, Nelson and her team of StrongWomen staff will spend three days in each community. They will engage the Change Clubs in awareness-building activities, work with the members on their site-specific environmental change, and empower them through team building activities.
Throughout the tour, Nelson will blog on StrongWomen.com and post pictures and video to highlight the work of the Change Clubs and the StrongWomen team’s experience attempting to eat well and stay physically active on the road. The website features tools for followers to organize and build their own Change Clubs.
“StrongWomen Across America is the beginning of an effort we hope will spread to other communities,” Nelson says. “Ultimately, we envision a network of women working together in-person and on-line to inspire enduring healthy changes where they live.”
The StrongWomen Across America tour schedule is:
• Sept. 14-16: Kenai, Alaska
• Sept. 21-23: Choteau, Montana
• Sept. 28-30: Fort Collins, Colorado
• Oct. 5-7: Pratt, Kansas
• Oct. 12-14: Camden, Arkansas
• Oct. 19-21: Lamar, Missouri
• Oct. 26-28: Clinton, Wisconsin
• Nov. 2-4: Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania