Mark Fenton challenges the public for a Healthier Iowa

Noelina Rissman

Former PBS show host and Olympic race walking contestant Mark Fenton spoke during the 2014 convention for the Iowa Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance on Oct. 3 in the Forker Building.

Fenton discussed the perceived risk that our next generation faces against living a longer life span, and he said that the risk is the obesity epidemic. He challenged the idea that the epidemic is no longer about obesity but an epidemic about physical inactivity and poor nutrition.

“Every study we have, every time we look at this place, we see again and again that physical activity may well be the best preventative behavior we can possibly do for a longer life,” Fenton said.

He stressed the need to have at least thirty minutes of exercise a day and the importance of being physically active.

“It does not have to be structured exercise. In my mind we should be doing much more, but the minimum recommendation will be enough to reduce our risk of everything that’s going to affect America today,” he said.

Fenton said that one of the main reasons why the next generation has a higher risk of being obese is due to a “sticky” youth. He described this as the phenomenon of kids not being “free-range” and being able to play when and where they want. 

He said over-organized play is becoming a problem in our nation because parents have to question the safety of allowing their kids to go outside and play.   

“If we think about how we’re going to establish a world for free-range kids, we have to change the physical environment as well … We need a world where people are intrinsically active as a part of daily life, from youth right out to when they’re an adult,” Fenton said.

There are four different aspects that can be implemented in communities that will help people be more physically active. A network of facilities, site design, safety and access for pedestrians and bikers and lane re-alignments all help communities be more active.   

Fenton said that the small-town Iowa design of having compact buildings where citizens can walk from place to place without having to drive is one way for communities to be friendlier towards those who want to be physically active.

“In other words, the point is we don’t get to a more athletic society if we don’t start getting to the [higher] walking performance score,” Fenton said.

Fenton challenged the audience to do three things to help build a healthier community, which included speaking up, acting up and stepping up to create a change.

He decided to put the challenge into practice by encouraging his audience to show up to a council planning meeting at Ames City Council chamber after his speech to purpose healthier communities.

“When a new subdivision is being built, where’s the corner park? Where’s the playground? … I’m talking about the neighborhood lot that so many of you remember playing on. Where’s that in the subdivision plans?” asked Fenton.

He encourages everyone to become a part of the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee. He also encouraged people to speak up for where every type of transit is supporting through a comprehensive network of transportation trails and safe routes.