The Kingston Greenline: A Valuable Asset in the Fight Against Obesity

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There’s a battle that is being waged in our community and the stakes couldn’t be higher. With the threat of chronic disease, higher health related spending, and an overall decline in quality of life, obesity is an issue that cannot be ignored. When combating this issue, several organizations within the community are working to pave the way toward a healthier future. The Kingston Greenline’s benefits for public health make it a valuable resource in this fight against obesity .

Within our own community of Ulster County, the rates of obesity are high. In a release from the office of New York State Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, statistics from the US Census Bureau reveal that the obesity rate for adults in  Ulster County is at 57.1%, with a recorded 77,649 obese or overweight adults countywide. In a study conducted by the Ulster County CHIP in 2011, findings stated that 41 out of 43 Ulster County elementary schools indicated an obesity rate of 18%, a rate that is higher than the national average.

The stakes couldn’t be greater with the links of obesity and chronic disease. Obesity has all around negative effects, as noted by the Harvard School for Public Health, “Obesity harms virtually every aspect of health”. Higher rates of obesity contribute to coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon), hypertension, stroke, and liver and gallbladder disease according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The solution to this epidemic of obesity and chronic disease is physical activity as recommended by the CDC. According to the County Health Rankings, 21% of adults have little or no leisure-time physical activity. According to Healthy People 2020, the benefits of physical activity reach across all age groups and ability levels.  Even small increases in physical activity can have benefits as a 2000 study in Denmark found that, “leisure-time physical activity improves longevity across genders and age groups”. Encouraging increased physical activity is a vital strategy in stemming this growing public health crisis. The National Parks Service notes that people are more likely to exercise regularly if they live near a rail trail

The benefits to the health of our community become tangible with the creation of a more connected system of trails and complete streets. According to Parks and Trails New York, walking is one of the easiest ways to become more physically active and control weight, noting that people with access to sidewalks and trails were 28-55% more likely to be physically active. With greater levels of physical activity, the risks for obesity related illness and chronic disease is diminished, as Rails to Trails.org explains, increased physical activity can help in preventing heart disease, slow bone loss that comes with age, lower the risks of certain cancers, and reduce anxiety and depression.

Another health related benefit of a more connected usable series of trails is the impact more physical activity can have on diminishing obesity-related healthcare costs. According to Parks and Trails New York, healthcare costs for obese adults in New York State were estimated to be in the realm of $7.6 billion in 2008. With Parks and Trails New York noting that  80% of the funding for these expenditures coming from publicly funded programs such as Medicaid and Medicare, the burden that obesity related health treatment puts on the public is very visible. When looking at an example of a successful rail trail system and these kind of financial related health benefits, the Intertwine system of trails in Portland Oregon has conducted studies on the subject with quite insightful findings. According to the study, it is estimated that the use of the Intertwine is responsible for the avoided weight gain of 17 million pounds for Metro region residents, which translates into $155 million in averted health care costs every year due to the physical activity opportunities created by this series of trails.

Within a community, a resource such as the Kingston Greenline that promotes physical activity would be an invaluable resource for generations to come. Whether it be the case for the prevention of obesity related diseases, or the aversion of health related costs, the link between public health benefits and trails is tangible. According to recommendations regarding solutions for the issue of obesity, the Ulster County CHIP states that, “a safe and accessible rail trail system plays an important role in the overall health of a community.”

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