Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bust a Move!

A big city girl at heart, one of the things which I miss most about living in Manhattan is walking. In my erstwhile life as a New Yorker, and like most Manhattanites, I would very often venture into different neighborhoods on foot. Living in Puerto Rico, Plaza Las Américas (the mall) and Old San Juan are pretty much the only places in which I get to take my leisure strolls. Ever since a labrador retriever mix puppy entered into my life though, I have started to take more walks around my neighborhood. Although there are many dogs around where I live, I don't often see people take their canine out for some exercise. In the parking lot at the mall, cars would wait to take my spot even though there are spaces just 20 feet or so away. It's a tragic fact, but many people on the island abhor the idea of walking!

Condado and Ocean Park are perhaps the only two areas where I often see people run and take their dogs out for walks. In a place where year-round temperatures rarely dip below 70 degrees Farenheit, you would think that people would be active and lead less sedentary lives. However, the obesity rate in Puerto Rico is estimated to be 42%. Diabetes is said to be one of the leading causes of death on the island. Particularly worrisome is the 32% juvenile obesity rate, which is nearly double that of the mainland's. To confront this problem, an obvious solution is to promote and encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles. Urban planning (or lack thereof) in most of the island's heavily populated areas have been less than adequate though. Puerto Rico lacks the large, public open spaces characteristic of cities like Chicago's beautiful Millenium Park. San Juan's Mayor, Jorge Santini, is hoping to change this though. He is proposing to make his city more pedestrian (as well as tourist) friendly.

Dubbing it, "The Walkable City Plan," Santini is aiming to convert parts of Old San Juan into car-free zones, including the construction of a light rail line. The project would not be completed until 2030 and is expected to cost taxpayers at least $1.5 billion dollars. To help garner support for this initiative, Santini is hosting an event in Old San Juan this Sunday to encourage people to put on their walking shoes. Bikes and skateboards are also welcomed at the Walkable City ("¡Puerto Rico Muévete!" Translation: "Puerto Rico Move Yourself!" ) event. It is certainly no easy feat to change the mindset of people, especially when it comes to their lifestyle. Just like the U.S, Puerto Rico is a car-driven culture. However, if given more choices and alternatives to the automobile, people will be more conscientious and choose a healthier way of life.

(The image above was obtained from www.prmuevete.org)


Cassie said...

Very interesting. We've noticed that there seems to be more overweight people in Puerto Rico than here in Colorado. Colorado, from what I understand, has the lowest obesity/overweight rate of the country, but it is also going up...The article says 42% obese or at risk of obesity...is that the same as overweight? If it includes overweight and not just obese, that is actually lower than the US rate. I think the mainland US rate of overweight or obese is around 65%! (This report shows closer to 68%! 34% overweight/34% obese: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/overwt.htm)

This post also ties into your previous post about all the chains as well as the taste for fried foods. We were amazed when we ordered some Chinese food in Puerto Rico (hey, we thought we could get some vegetables -lol) and they put French fries on top of the white rice! Incredible. Like we needed more starch, let alone fried potatoes with Chinese food.

Old San Juan seems pretty walkable to me even as it is. They could just declare it a car free zone right now without having to install the trolley system and just have those free buses (that look like trolleys). Old San Juan is such a cool place I think people might go for it to keep it pristine if it were marketed to them in the right way.

adriana said...

Hello Cassie,

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the obesity rate in the U.S is 34%. The difference between being overweight and being obese can be calculated through the person's body mass index (BMI). Here's a link for more insight into this topic: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/defining.html

Chinese restaurants on the island mainly cater to Boricuas' palates. Hence, you see fried chicken and french fries served.

Old San Juan is indeed a wonderful place for a walk. Being there transports you back to the Spanish colonial period, if you can just ignore the Payless Shoe Store, along with other retail chains.

For a healthy meal, go to Cafe Berlin. I really like La Buena Mesa de Oscar too. It's not in Old SJ, but it's a vegetarian restaurant I recently discovered and have grown to love.

Here's their info: http://www.sal.pr/riopiedrasvegetariana/labuenamesadeoscarii.html

Thanks so much for your comments and thoughts!

Cassie said...

Thanks Adriana,
I guess what I was wondering from the article that was linked in the original post was the part that says "obese or at risk for obesity". I understand the difference between overweight and obese, but what defines "at risk for obesity"? I would imagine overweight people are "at risk for obesity".

This is part I'm talking about: ...la población obesa o en riesgo de obesidad actualmente en Puerto Rico [es](42%)...

adriana said...

Hi Cassie,

I'm not exactly sure of the exact weight range (given the individual's height) in which someone would be considered to be at risk of being obese. However, I would say if someone's BMI is very close to 40, they'd be at risk of obesity. I suppose just use one's simple old judgement.