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The Fitness Desert Project

The Fitness Desert Project

Picture of Vicky Hallett

DC really likes to exercise. Just peek inside the August issue of Yoga Journal, which named Washington one of its 10 "fantastically yoga-friendly towns." Or, take a look at our streets, where cars share space with the 1,000+ bicycles of Capital Bikeshare, the largest program of its kind in the country. The American College of Sports Medicine recently declared us the nation's second fittest city (and for the previous three years, we were at the top of the rankings).

But there are some numbers Washington can't be very proud of. Like, try the recent obesity figures reported by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Our overall rate of 21.7 is actually pretty impressive (albeit sad), but when you break down the results by race, you can see a huge disparity in the results: It's 34.4 percent for blacks, 18.1 percent for Latinos and 9.3 percent for whites.

There are plenty of reasons for this, but one that hasn't been fully explored is the prevalence of "fitness deserts." Just as food deserts deprive certain neighborhoods of fresh produce and whole grains, areas without access to fitness facilities, classes and opportunities prevent residents from getting physical activity. And unfortunately, D.C's minority population is much more likely to live in these parts of the city.

So my project is to highlight these fitness deserts through a three-part series:

1) Pinpointing D.C.'s fitness deserts, and discussing why they lack the resources available elsewhere in the city. I'm hoping to learn about mapping techniques so I can create some sort of interactive online component.

2) Profiling residents in these fitness desert neighborhoods, and exploring how the environment affects their daily decisions about physical activity. As part of my reporting, I plan to bring along the office flip cam to capture video clips of these subjects.

3) Discussing possible solutions to the fitness desert problem, from outreach programs to architectural design changes. This research will hopefully culminate in a community forum.

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