In Southwest Baltimore—as well as in communities across the country—our behaviors have led us to unhealthy lives and lifestyles. The increase of chronic health conditions (e.g. high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stroke) is affecting younger individuals and not enough people are concerned. In some neighborhoods in Southwest Baltimore, the life expectancy is 10-15 years less than in other more affluent neighborhoods. Many individuals living in these disenfranchised communities do not understand how important it is to eat healthy foods and to exercise.
Southwest Baltimore has become a “food desert” because there are very few grocery stores and too many carry-outs. The two supermarkets serving Southwest Baltimore stock only boxed and canned items that have long shelf lives and don’t offer healthier choices. Most local grocery store owners do not live in the communities they serve and claim that the people do not buy or want healthier choices or options. Take a trip to the grocery stores in many of these communities and you will find only whole or 2% milk, many sugary drinks and sodas, but no good quality wheat bread or fresh fruits and vegetables. Residents seeking healthier choices and options must travel outside their community to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and find more choices and wider varieties.
In addition, many residents have not associated the lack of exercise with certain health conditions or failing health. It’s true that residents living in low-income communities cannot afford gym memberships, but there are other ways to exercise. Going back a couple of generations, people did not have cars and walked where they needed to go. Today, people will not walk more than a few blocks without seeking a ride—bus, car, or other means of public transportation. In the past, children had public recreation centers within the neighborhoods. However, in the last decade, city government has closed many recreation centers and the residents have lost programs that promote exercise for adults and children. There have been several attempts to promote walking groups in some communities in Southwest Baltimore, but when the effort goes beyond co-workers and friends to recruit community residents, the excuses begin from people who live in area (e.g. too much crime in the area, will it be safe, seniors are too old, etc.)
A change in behaviors can help create healthier lifestyles and health improvements for our seniors, young residents, and single parents with children. Becoming healthier citizens in Southwest Baltimore and throughout the nation starts with making a commitment to change and to be healthy.