It is a small but significant bit of evidence: in each of the last two years, the most commonly “hit” health promotion page on the LHSFNA website was in the arena of nutrition and fitness.

Apparently, like many others across North America, Laborers and their families are tuning into the urgent message of health professionals that we all must get better control of our weight.

Americans and Canadians may be getting the message, but attacking the problem is a difficult and protracted struggle. What is the right diet and how much should we be eating? How do we fit exercise into our busy lives?

The LHSFNA Health Promotion Division has been looking at answers to these baffling questions and, this month, announced the publication of Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers (NFL),a program designed to help Laborers assess and modify their lifestyles.

“There’s no simple answer that will work for everyone,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer, New England Regional Manager and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “With this program, our Health Promotion Division has tried to provide a framework so that each LIUNA member and their family can examine their own situation and devise an effective plan to control weight and improve overall fitness.”

Designed for use at training centers, union halls, health fairs or as part of toolbox talks, the program includes an Instructor’s Guide, participant pamphlets and a series of educational and motivational posters. The Guide covers five key topics, each one being the subject of a participant pamphlet:

  1. An overview of obesity, including statistics, health consequences and effects on Laborers
  2. The essential components to a healthy eating plan for proper nutrition built around the examination of the components in a sample food label
  3. An overview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Pyramid and the recommended daily amounts in each food group
  4. An overview of the physical activity needed for a healthy lifestyle and how physical conditioning can be incorporated into the life of a Laborer
  5. Recommendations on how to appropriately incorporate healthy behavior changes into a Laborer’s life

Each section of the Guide includes additional materials to further explain and amplify its content. Supplemental materials – addressing emotional eating, binge eating, diets, vegetarian diets, vegetarian options when eating out, calories burned on the job, calories burned during exercise and help resources – are included in the appendices.

Certainly, the program is timely. Across the U.S. and Canada, unhealthy weight gain is epidemic. As many as two out of every three adults in the two countries are overweight. Moreover, the examples adults set for children – the food, snacks and drinks provided at home as well as the lack of physical activity – are creating a generation of children who are more obese than ever before. For adults and kids alike, the extra weight means decades of unnecessary illness and suffering.

Nor is it cheap. It is estimated that all the extra weight costs the United States $93 billion annually in unnecessary medical costs. These costs cover a vast array of illnesses – from heart disease to diabetes, arthritis and gastric condition, to name a few – that, for most people, might never develop except for poor nutrition and a lack of physical activity.

Fortunately, however, a cultural shift may be underway as health professionals and the media increasingly comment on the personal health habits creating these problems and offer positive alternatives. Clearly, the readers of the LHSFNA web pages are showing discerning interest, making Winter Inactivity Fuels Weight Gain and Biggest Loser Opens Second Season – with a total of almost 7,000 hits – the most read HP stories of 2006.

“We’re very excited to see this kind of interest among our site visitors,” says Health Promotion Division Director Mary Jane MacArthur, “and we intend to keep reporting on the latest research, offering suggestions to improve lifestyles and encouraging initiatives that our members and their families can take. The Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers program shares current ‘best practices’ in personal health and lifestyle change, and we will build upon it in the months and years ahead.”

Designed primarily for trainers, the NFL program can be ordered through the Fund’s online publication catalogue. Its five participant booklets will also be available soon through the catalogue. Other LHSFNA fitness and nutrition resources include the Body Mass Index Chartand the Build a Better Body pamphlet which can also be ordered on-line.

Healthy eating and fitness are the keys to good health. Our programs put the keys in your hands; now it’s up to you to open the door to a long and healthy life.

[Steve Clark]