Health Fitness Revolution’s Samir Becic sat down with Mayor Annise Parker, mayor of the 4th largest city in the US, Houston. Mayor Parker speaks on her “Healthy Houston Initiative” that aims to change Houstonians lives for the better through community programs, public parks, running trails, and healthy events.
HFR: Given that Houston has been one of the fattest cities in America over the past decade, and is currently the fattest city in the US, what finally provoked and motivated the Houston Health Initiative?
Mayor Annise Parker: Firstly Houston is not one of the fattest cities in America, that title is based on unscientific facts- it was assigned because Houston has a lot of restaurants and not a lot of gyms. I believe that this is because we have an climate that allows for outdoor activities all year long. Even though we know that these labels are meaningless, it is important to me, as mayor, to have the city be as healthy as it can be- it saves money, it saves resources, it alleviates the strain on our medical facilities because most of the health problems we have here are preventable. There are so many people, particularly Houstonians, who want to be more fit!
HFR: What kind of programs do you plan on implementing to increase physical activity in schools, at work, and in communities?
Mayor Annise Parker: I don’t have a lot of say about what happens at schools but the city coordinates a lot of the after school programs and a component of those has to be getting kids moving and active, and those are conducted through the Houston Parks system. We are providing more and more opportunities for Houstonians to have access to outdoor activities. We are expanding out park space and if the voters of Houston support the bond election November we will be able to implement the Bayou Greenway Initiative which will mean we have a linear trail system along every one of the bayous. It will vastly expand our hike and bike system- we are also doing things like out bike share program, right now it’s only downtown but we intend on expanding it to the museum district and the medical center, where if you get a membership you have access to the bikes without needing to own one or carry it around. This is one of the ways to get people moving.
HFR: I was a part of ex-Mayor Lee Brown’s Houston Task Force in 2002,and it had some success, how is this health initiative different? How is it going to be more successful?
Mayor Annise Parker: What we need to remember is the tremendous growth in social media since then. Now we have facebook and twitter, and apps that can track your steps of workout with an online buddy and track each other from different parts of the city. There is also a different awareness and as baby boomers get towards the end of our business careers, we are more interested in getting healthy as we head into the next 20 years of our lives.
HFR: Houston has one of the biggest medical centers in the world, yet we are plagued with the fattest and unhealthiest citizens due to the obesity rate- what are your thoughts on this? Do medical doctors have enough knowledge about healthy lifestyle and willingness to promote healthy lifestyle with preventative measures?
Mayor Annise Parker: That’s really what prompted me to restart the healthy Houston initiative- because so many of these diseases are preventable on our own, without medical help. I think preventative medicine is coming into the forefront as there is a convergence of things happening, both socially and in medicine. And while believe the medical center is not only the largest in the world but also the best, it is composed of specialists in certain diseases, we really need to be thinking of wellness and how to stay away from doctors until we truly need them and not wait until we need to be cured of something.
HFR: Our police and teachers have very stressful jobs, working with children and working with criminals, do you think implementing healthy lifestyle and preventive medicine particularly in these two fields could increase our security to the next level and make our teachers more focused and more task oriented in creating the new generation of successful and healthy children?
Mayor Annise Parker: The short answer in yes. I hope that more employers like the school districts offer more options like what we are offering to the city employees now that encourages employees to get on a wellness track. Specifically to the police department, in our most recent contract with them we put a fitness requirement in for officers hired after a certain date. Police officers come out of the academy in a lot of cases, the fittest in their lives and in the past they would stop exercising- now we promote our officers to remain more active- but rather than doing it in a punitive way we do it by offering the incentive of promotions and assignments that they might want.
HFR: My philosophy in regards to healthy lifestyle is that with physical exercise, healthy nutrition, and mental balance, we can manage, control, or completely avoid 60-70% of known illnesses. In my interview with Dr. Deepak Chopra earlier this month, he stated that 90% of illnesses could be treated with healthy lifestyle. What is your stand on this?
Mayor Annise Parker: I don’t know what the percentage is, but I know that there is no doubt that much of what we suffer from in modern society are from a sedentary lifestyle and poor choices in eating. That is why the city of Houston for the past couple years have been driving a local food, better food options within the city.
HFR: Houstonians love to eat out, so I recently began going to restaurants and picking the healthiest options and promoting them on my Facebook page. How can we motivate restaurants to serve healthier food options?
Mayor Annise Parker: Restaurants are service organizations; we are blessed in Houston with a huge variety with chef owned restaurants, and the restaurateur’s needs to hear from the customer what they want to eat- we should not be shy about asking for healthier food options like salad instead of fries- we need to ask. I guarantee that with enough demand, the menus will change.
HFR: In January of this year, I started The Health and Fitness Revolution which aims to change the way people think about health and fitness, incorporating proper exercise and nutrition practices into the very fabric of family and society on a community level. How can my organization, and others like mine, join with the Healthy Houston Initiative to bring even greater results?
Mayor Annise Parker: Well we just got healthy Houston as an organization off the ground, but the city of Houston already has a number of programs that would fit very well with yours. We have a community garden organization that promotes growing your own vegetables within the city. When done within the city that would tend to their plants instead of smoke breaks or soda breaks in a social, healthy setting. We need partners in programs like these. We are also starting a food desert initiative that is trying to bring more and different healthy foods to local grocery stores or even community gardens. We are always looking for partners in these programs.
HFR: Mayor Parker, what do you do for fun?
Mayor Annise Parker: I have a garden plot in my backyard, I am a plant person. I read and I walk. Even though I’m rarely at home to watch TV, the only TV watching I do, I promised myself I would do while walking on the treadmill.
HFR: So you believe in physical activity, healthy nutrition, and building your mind, which to me, is complete health. The Health and Fitness Revolution and Health and Fitness Sports Magazine will be more than happy to support your great Healthy Houston Initiative!