Slow and steady

Published 9:52 pm Friday, April 1, 2011

In a survey of communities around the nation that took into account a variety of factors contributing to a healthy populace, Suffolk recently ranked 70th out of the 132 cities and counties in Virginia, placing the city in the bottom half of the state’s rankings.

The news could have been better for those who have dedicated themselves to improving the physical well-being of people here in Suffolk. Organizations around the city have sprung up in recent years that are dedicated to teaching people how to eat better, get more exercise and maintain lifestyles that are likely to lead to longer, more satisfying lives. It would, perhaps, feel as if those organizations and volunteers and contributions were a bit more successful if Suffolk’s ranking in the survey had improved more than the two places it actually gained since last year.

But healthy communities don’t just happen overnight, and Suffolk has a long way to go before it catches up with the health status of Fairfax County and some of the state’s other, wealthier municipalities. There are many, many years’ worth of bad habits ingrained into the social fabric of Suffolk, coupled with increasing opportunities for lazy behavior and unhealthy eating. It will take a concerted and repetitive message to overcome such powerful factors affecting healthiness.

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Fortunately, groups such as the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community, the Obici Healthcare Foundation, the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, the YMCA and many more have just the sort of long-term commitment that is called for in Suffolk’s fight to become a healthier community. And it could be that — as with dieting — slow, steady improvements are more likely to last than quick, dramatic ones.

Better to take a little longer to move into the ranks of Virginia’s healthiest communities if the extra time means that the changes become true lifestyle adaptations and not just temporary adjustments that are soon discarded in favor of the old, comfortable, unhealthy ways.