The Fate of Our Children: Live Sicker, Die Younger

How's this for a chilling forecast: the prevalence of diabetes in America will double in the next two-and-a-half decades.
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How's this for a chilling forecast: the prevalence of diabetes in America will double in the next two-and-a-half decades.

A recent study conducted by the University of Chicago estimates that by 2034, over 44 million Americans will be living with diabetes, compared to the already alarming 23 million who do so today. 90% of the people afflicted with diabetes have the condition known as Type 2, a condition that develops over time and is linked to obesity. What is most frustrating is that obesity--and, hence, type 2 diabetes--is largely preventable.

The reasons for the decline in our country's public health are two-fold. For one, we as a nation have become more sedentary. But diet is the second, and much larger culprit of our distended waistline. Across the nation, too many calories from diets high in cheap, calorie-dense processed and fast food, and an increasing lack of low-calorie, nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits, are elevating levels of obesity and diabetes, as well as heart disease and certain cancers. The escalating health care costs today are symptomatic of our sick nation, one in which today's children, for the first time in history, are expected to live sicker and die younger than their parents.

For many communities, the "diabesity" epidemic is especially dire, and city leaders are looking for ways to reintroduce low-cost, healthful food back into their community's diet. These municipal officials realize that if they want to see improvements in the health and well-being of their city's citizens, there is no time to wait for health care and food reform from Capitol Hill; local solutions must be devised and implemented now.

One of those solutions just emerging is the growing of fresh produce on public land, for the benefit of the public. In cities large and small, public officials bent on improving the quality of life within their community are looking at urban agriculture opportunities within parks, plazas, street medians and boulevards, parking lots, and the landscaped grounds around (and atop) civic buildings like city halls, court houses, libraries, and schools. This particular brand of urban agriculture--call it "public produce"--aims to transform purely ornamental landscapes into edible ones.

In Seattle, for example, planners are looking to provide one community garden for every 2,500 households in the city. Both Baltimore and Portland, Oregon have instituted vegetable gardens on the grounds of their respective City Halls, to grow food for their citizens. Zoning administrators in Portland are also working to allow fruit trees to be planted as street trees, so that every neighborhood could have access to fresh, nutritious food at no cost.

Municipal officials in Davenport, Iowa are planting under-utilized parking spaces in the downtown with fruits and vegetables, free for anyone to harvest: the perennially hungry, the insatiable locavore, or the aspiring foodie.

To many community leaders and elected officials, the reason for urban farming is clear: we have an eating problem here in America, and it is affecting our health and our economy. These leaders argue the time is ripe for a quiet revolution, a rethinking and retooling of how we feed our citizens. Public officials turning to underutilized public space to grow fresh produce that is then available to the public seems to be a well-crafted recipe for a more bountiful city and healthful citizenry.

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