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Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

Two Lane County towns aren't taking the latest bad news about obesity sitting down.

Cottage Grove and Florence are among Oregon small cities launching campaigns to get employees and residents to step up their activity level as national attention focuses on health problems posed by America's sedentary lifestyle.

In Cottage Grove, City Manager Richard Meyers was among 25 employees and community members registering this week for the city's "Million Footstep Challenge." Under the program, participants are equipped with pedometers and track their daily walking over the next year.

The program was created by City County Insurance Services, a Salem-based self-insurance trust that provides employee medical benefits for Cottage Grove and other small towns and counties in the state. Toledo and Sutherlin are among other Oregon cities expressing interest in the challenge, said Danna Cebulski, the insurance company's "healthy benefits" coordinator.

Trust officials weren't surprised by a federal announcement this week that obesity and inactivity are fast overtaking smoking as the country's leading preventable cause of death.

"We've been seeing double-digit trends in health premiums, tied in part to increased usage," Cebulski said. "We wanted to do something to manage this, to help people make better health decisions."

The company seized on the "Million Footstep Challenge" as a modest goal for most workers. "We wanted something that employers could easily roll out to their employees," she said.

A million steps may sound anything but modest - until you divide it by the number of days in a year. Then you come up with 2,740 steps - or a little more than a mile a day.

That's a goal that fits right in with a new campaign announced this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "America needs to get healthier one small step at a time," Secretary Tommy Thompson said. "Each small step does make a difference, whether it's taking the stairs instead of an elevator or snacking on fruits and vegetables. The more small steps we can take, the further down the road we will be toward better health for ourselves and our families."

A private, nonprofit group in Florence is launching a similar, small-steps program this weekend. The "Fit in Florence Health and Weight Loss Challenge" is a yearlong campaign to make the community "the fittest city on Oregon's Central Coast," said Sharon McNally, director of today's health fair.

"We're responding to the same thing in terms of obesity and health problems in our community," McNally said.

The challenge won't end with today's fair. "We will be scheduling bike rides and community walks throughout the year," McNally said.

It will include a Web site,, where participants can register and receive regular e-mail messages on weekly exercise goals, healthy recipes and overcoming challenges.

"We're also going to be encouraging people to buddy up for the fitness challenge because people who have a buddy have a better chance of staying on track with their lifestyle changes," said McNally, a Web designer.

Cottage Grove's Million Step Challenge will use team competition and public tracking of combined miles walked to keep participants engaged.

But the pedometers alone are likely to spark some folks to stick with it, said LaDonna Grotbo of Helena, Mont., who ran a similar program last year as wellness coordinator for Montana state employees.

"I was expecting about 1,000 people to sign up, but we got 3,000," she said. "I think the pedometer, as a gadget, really appealed to men, who had generally not participated in wellness programs before."

Idaho walking guru Robert Sweetgall, a consultant who helped design both the Montana program and the Million Step Challenge, also said that the pedometers have been particularly effective at drawing men into exercise programs.

"They have this attitude like, `If it ain't broken, don't fix it.' But they're really into numbers, competition, goals, gadgets," said Sweetgall, who left his sedentary job after his father's fatal heart attack and did a 50-state, 11,208-mile walk in a single year to promote fitness awareness.

The pedometers, available to Cottage Grove challenge participants as part of a $34 kit of motivational materials, are motion-sensing devices that record each footstep. Participants then measure the distance they cover in one step and calibrate their pedometers to accurately measure the ground they cover.

"An easy way to measure this is to walk through a mud puddle, then measure the distance between your wet footprints on the sidewalk," Sweetgall said.

The challenge was developed to encourage a more active lifestyle "even for people who don't want to get in spandex, go to a gym, or set aside an entire hour," he said.

"You just wear the pedometer and see what you can do by simply taking an extra flight of stairs, hand-delivering an e-mail, or parking your car at the far edge of the lot. It may not be as good as a 40-minute block of running," he said. "But it's better to get thousands of stressed-out, anti-exercise people doing something rather than nothing."


Free Community Health Fair: 10 a.m. to

4 p.m. today at Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St.; (541) 902-2067

Challenge Web site:


Cost: $34 for pedometer and motivational materials

Registration information: City manager's office, 400 E. Main St.; 942-5301

Fitness walking Web site:


Cottage Grove City Manager Richard Meyers leads Kathy Kelty, Stewart Taylor and Mike Grover on a downtown walk.
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Title Annotation:Health
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 13, 2004
Previous Article:BRIEFLY.
Next Article:UO law professor, ACLU applaud decision as Lane County keeps a cautious approach.

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