Fighting Back Against Childhood Obesity

You’ve heard the statistics more than once: Indiana is one of the unhealthiest states in the country. In the 2013 report “F as in FAT,” our state was ranked the eighth most obese state in the nation.

Through the Wellness Council of Indiana and our own Chamber-driven efforts to get Indiana into better shape (not only economically, but also through health and wellness efforts), we talk a lot about workplace wellness and the opportunity that employers have through encouraging healthy behaviors at work.

But, we have a bigger problem than that, and it starts much earlier than working age. Childhood obesity is an epidemic not only in Indiana, but around the world. The Wall Street Journal just reported that bariatric surgery is increasingly being used as a solution to curb life-threatening obesity in children, and even toddlers, in countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Locally, a recent article in The Indianapolis Star told the story about a 14-year-old freshman named Eric, who attends Franklin Community High School. The 510-pound boy was too large for desks and chairs at the school and was increasingly withdrawn from his classmates, many of whom teased the boy for his girth.

But one teacher pulled him aside and asked what was going on. It turned out the child had lost his father and then broken his leg, leading to surgeries and sedentary living – two crushing factors that contributed to his weight gain.

The teacher reached out to an upperclassman to begin working with the boy; his classmates and other staff members also became involved and began influencing a healthy lifestyle of walking and exercise and good nutrition.

The Star reports that the story has gained national attention, and an H.H. Gregg executive is donating a treadmill and exercise equipment to the school. Even Subway spokesman Jared Fogle (famous for dropping a serious amount of weight through eating healthy Subway sandwiches and walking) has contacted the teachers involved to speak to classes at the school.  A local hospital has offered to teach Eric’s family about healthy nutrition and cooking.

While this is just one story out of many relating to childhood obesity, it is an important example of how positive, lasting change can occur – through education and support from parents, peers,  schools, communities and even businesses.

By making this everyone’s responsibility and encouraging our youngest citizens to become healthy adults, we have a real opportunity to curb this growing problem.

What can you do to help support this change?

Will IU Tackle the Longstanding Mascot Question?

More of a light-hearted story here about a state school, but as an IU grad, I’d like to weigh in on the IU mascot debate featured in today’s Indy Star. Personally, I think we definitely need a mascot, and I’ve long been jealous of the Boilers’ "Purdue Pete" (the old/new one, not the stuffed pillow they had for about 20 minutes a couple of months ago), which I think is one of the top mascots in the country. Since my time at IU, I’ve advocated (among friends) the development of "Harry the Hoosier Hog." Just a giant State Fair-quality pig to run mosey on out with the football team during games, and then maybe a student in a hog costume during the hoops season. What’s not to like about hogs? They’re sometimes cute, often aggressive, and always delicious.

That said, I do think the bison idea in the article has merit. The animal is on the state seal, and while we no longer have them here, bison remain a part of our history. The Star reports:

In the late 1960s, IU had a bison as its mascot. In 1979, IU had someone named "Hoosier Pride," a hick-looking person with a large head and a crimson cowboy hat. Apparently, though, that one didn’t pass the politically correct test and was quickly abandoned.

Since then, however, nothing.

"I think you should have a contest, get the university students involved and let them draw up something," Gearries said. "Let’s have a name contest, let’s have a drawing contest, and when we finally get it down to two or three finalists, we can let the students vote on it."

Valerie Gill, IU’s director of licensing and trademarks, said nothing is currently in the works.

Glass said any decision on a mascot would need to be made at the university level.

"Ultimately that’s a university decision, and my belief is that if it bubbles up, it will be more of a grass-roots effort from the students and fans," Glass said.

Most of the mascots in the Big Ten date to the 1950s, though their role has significantly expanded from an extension of the cheerleading squad over the decades.

Minnesota assistant athletic director Scott Ellison said its mascot, Goldy, made 572 appearances last year, roughly 300 of them outside athletic and other school events, including birthday parties and weddings. Goldy can make as many seven appearances in a day and is a revenue source for the school.

"(A mascot) is an ambassador for the university," Ellison said. "It’s one of our brands. It’s very visible and very much the face of not only the athletics department, but also the university."

Indy Doing Its Part to Prepare for Super Bowl (Just Need Players)

Officials organizing the 2012 Super Bowl in Indianapolis are comfortable with the progress of the event, which is slated to bring an economic impact of "at least $150 million" to the area, according to a recent Indianapolis Business Journal article. The Indy Star reports on the status of preparations:

Coordinators of Indianapolis’ 2012 Super Bowl efforts said during a briefing today that all plans are on schedule for the February event.

“At 300 days out, we are very pleased with where we are,” said Mark Miles, chairman of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee. “We are at or ahead of schedule in every respect.”

Well, except for one — the game itself.

The National Football League and the players’ union are at odds over a new collective bargaining agreement. The NFL initiated a lockout. The players have decertified their union, prompting charges of bad faith from the NFL. A federal judge in St. Paul, Minn., is expected to rule in the next couple weeks on the players’ request to lift the lockout.

As he has been saying for months, Miles and other Super Bowl planners expected the uncertainty. And he warned today that it may not be until late summer or early fall that anyone gets a good indication of whether there will be a shortened NFL season, or even one at all.

During today’s briefing, Miles preemptively broached the topic before taking reporters’ questions.

“Our job is to plan and to be prepared. And that’s exactly what we’re doing,” he said.

Asked whether he was encouraged by the federal judge’s recent statements urging the two sides to return to the bargaining table, Miles said: “Not really.”

Ultimately, he said, progress on the labor agreement front is out of the host committee’s hands.

Supporting the Arts on Others’ Dime (Lots of Dimes)

Let’s be clear: Carmel’s Palladium performing arts center is a good thing, adding to the quality of life for residents of the Hamilton County city and surrounding areas. A township trustee spending $10,000 in taxpayer money so he, township board members and their guests could enjoy the grand opening is the latest in a long line of reasons to do away with this outdated form of government.

The key phrase is "taxpayer money." Which makes the following comments all the more ridiculous. The trustee told WRTV-Channel 6, "From my standpoint, it was the right thing to do." The township board chairman adds, "We view this as supporting the arts in Carmel."

The Indianapolis Star editorial on Saturday stated in part:

Keep in mind that poor relief is one of the purported purposes of township government. But tuxedoed patron of the arts? Not on the official list of a township trustee’s duties.

(Trustee Douglas) Callahan, however, was unrepentant in an interview with The Star’s Chris Sikich. He even tried to argue that township officials have been picked on by powerful forces. "People are throwing us to the dogs constantly, from the (Indiana) Chamber of Commerce to the media to the governor’s office,” he said.

The state chamber, the governor and the editorial boards of 16 Indiana newspapers, along with dozens of other officials and organizations, have indeed been critical of township government. But their complaints aren’t so much with the people who fill township offices as with the system in which they operate. Even if every existing township official were to be replaced with people of impeccable judgment and integrity, the township system still would be antiquated, inefficient and unnecessary.

And although Callahan and the township board members exercised poor judgment in using tax dollars to buy tickets to a fancy celebration, the more significant outrage is that Indiana’s townships are collectively hoarding at least $295 million in public money while fewer people in need receive assistance.

Really, it’s time for reform. It won’t happen, however, unless Hoosiers speak up and demand it. Need more convincing. Check out MySmartGov

UPDATE: Upon advice of the Clay Township Attorney, who also happens to be House Speaker Brian Bosma, township officials have decided to do the right thing and return the $10,000 used on Palladium tickets.

Township Reform: Let’s Hear It For Policy Over Politics

A 90-minute Wednesday session titled Policy Over Politics: A Forum on Township Reform contained a seemingly never-ending supply of valuable information. Enough so that more than a few of the several hundred attendees could be heard at the end muttering something along the lines of (I paraphrase), "Why is this even an issue? Just do away with the townships and let’s move on."

Gov. Mitch Daniels opened the educational program, saying that it most definitely is time to reverse the "politics over policy" reality that has dominated the past few years. Below is a highlight or two from each of the presenters:

  • IUPUI political scientist Bill Blomquist noted there have only been about a dozen studies on local government reform over the past century and describes the historical aspect as a tension between 200-year-old Jacksonian democracy (elect everyone to short terms and make them accountable) and the later Progressive Era reform and its concept of government not being too complicated for the voters
  • The Indianapolis Star opinion editor Tim Swarens says he served on a panel on this topic eight or nine years ago, but that sometimes you just have to teach over and over. He quickly dispatched the various counter arguments township officials try to use to justify their existence
  • Louis Mahern, former state senator and member of the 2007 Kernan-Shepard Commission on Local Government Reform, also spoke. We could — and have in the past — done entire stories on his knowledge and passion in this area. For today, he points out that it comes down to the "money going for inefficient township government or libraries, or parks, or public safety, or pools …"
  • Martha Lamkin, longtime education and philanthropy leader: "It’s well past the time for elevating our poor relief to 21st century standards of accountability and transparency." She emphasizes the ridiculous nature of whether someone qualifies for poor relief being determined 1,000 different ways — township by township
  • Steve Campbell, former Indianapolis deputy mayor, advises to avoid the rhetoric. Efforts to modernize Marion County government while Bart Peterson was mayor were not a power grab, didn’t result in people dying (after fire department mergers began) and didn’t cost any state legislators their jobs
  • Mark Miles, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership president, closed with "every layer of government is being forced to do more with less, yet townships manage to do less with more" and this classic that he said he was told earlier in the day: Bureaucracy defends the status quo long past the time the quo has lost its status

Bottom line: get involved; contact your legislators; learn more at

New Conner Prairie Exhibit Brings Indiana Civil War History to Life

Conner Prairie (Fishers), an Indiana Chamber member and an organization I’m proud to be affiliated with via its Horizon Council, just announced a new exhibit and massive undertaking launching in June. Though Indiana is not often thought of as a site for Civil War battles, anyone whose traveled to Corydon knows Hoosiers of the day were privy to one major scare courtesy of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. Now, visitors can be part of an interactive experience telling the story of this event. The Indy Star reports:

A $4.3 million Civil War exhibit, unveiled Wednesday, is the museum’s newest way to present history.

The "1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana," opening June 4, will integrate technology with Conner Prairie’s first-person interpretation in an outdoor setting to create a new kind of guest experience focused on personal stories during the Civil War in Indiana. Conner Prairie’s largest exhibit, at 8,800 square feet, it will use projected images, video, theatrical sound, staging, hands-on experiences and live action to bring the drama of Civil War Indiana to life.

"It’s going to be an experience like none other in the country, and maybe even in the world," said Ellen Rosenthal, Conner Prairie’s president and chief executive officer.
The museum, on 850 acres at 13400 Allisonville Road, offers programs designed to engage and connect people of all ages and backgrounds with one another and the past.

The new exhibit will tell the story of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s cavalry raid through Dupont during July 1863. The characters in the exhibit are based on real people who lived in Indiana during the Civil War when Morgan’s Raiders invaded.

"It’s the most important Civil War event ever to occur on Indiana soil," Rosenthal said.

The exhibit posed three challenges: to re-create Morgan’s raid with 2,500 cavalry over and over again daily, to make visitors feel part of the experience and to make the experience engaging for the entire family, not just for military history buffs.

Dan Freas, the museum’s vice president of guest experiences, said "Civil War Journey" doesn’t rely on an increase in staff.

"That’s where technology comes into play," he said. The exhibit incorporates theatrical wizardry that includes interactive video, special effects, lighting, sound and costumed interpreters "to provide that sense of excitement."

‘Superman,’ Schools and What’s Next

Indianapolis may be leading the country in Waiting for "Superman" viewing parties. And that’s a good thing. I had the opportunity last week to catch the documentary being touted as the key to pushing the education reform battle over the top.

Many of the 200-plus people at the showing I attended did appear to be genuinely moved. Moved by the story of five young students from various big cities whose fates were largely tied to whether they gained the luck of the lottery in order to enter a school that would give them a good education and a chance at a solid future. Moved by the parents who were trying any way they could to create a better life for their children. By the way, it’s not just an urban problem, but a widespread challenge that does not discriminate by locale.

The attendees asked the right questions — primarily centered around "What can we do to help, to make a difference?" — of Indiana schools chief Tony Bennett after the screening. Bennett, as always, brought passion to his remarks and guidance.

Personally, I was not really surprised by what I saw during the documentary or entirely convinced that the well-told stories would be able to live up to its savior-type hype. On reflection, I think that means I’m getting old. I’ve seen too many solid reform efforts go by the wayside, too many political fights get in the way of sound policies, too many instances of people saying the right things, but the status quo prevailing in the end.

But all hope is not lost. I understand the importance of reform and not letting thousands (not just a few) of children fall through the cracks. I do believe now, more than any other time, offers promise. Not because of the movie, but because of the leaders rallying the troops. Kudos to Bennett, to the Indianapolis Star for its focus on education and others determined to change the complacency of adults, an attitude that plagues young people now and potentially for the rest of their lives.

My advice: go see the movie if you haven’t already; check out the "Superman" web site to learn how you can help; and if you’re not convinced there is a problem in Indiana, take this five-question quiz provided by The Foundation for Educational Choice. Yes, you have to submit some contact information to get the answers, but the wake-up call is worth an e-mail or two you might receive in the future. 

A Different KIPP Story

A recent Indianapolis Star story on charter schools found that the city’s KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter is falling well short in its performance in regard to student testing. The story accurately pointed out that charter performance, like that of other public schools, relies on strong teachers and solid leadership.

On a national level, 22 KIPP middle schools are part of a long-range study and have been lauded for strong achievement in an interim report.

According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute:

Though KIPP schools have been the focus of previous research, this is by far the largest and most rigorous study to date. And the results are encouraging. Using matched student achievement data from 22 middle schools that had been open since at least 2005-06, Mathematica analysts found statistically significant impacts on reading in 15 of the 22, and on math in 18. Conversely, just two schools had a significantly negative impact on reading, while one school had a significantly negative impact on math (in year 1), which actually reversed into a positive impact by year three. These positive effects are sizable, especially in math. After three years in a KIPP school, a student will have made on average 4.2 years of growth in math and 3.9 years of growth in reading.

This was true even though KIPP included in its treatment group all students who were ever enrolled in a KIPP school during the study, including those who spent just one year at KIPP and subsequently left, as well as the results for two schools that lost their KIPP affiliation during the study and subsequently closed. That means these results are probably conservative in terms of students who remained enrolled at KIPP all four years of middle school because they hold KIPP accountable for students who actually were not at KIPP for the majority of their middle school years. Though KIPP surely deserves praise for these results, it should also be applauded for subjecting itself to such a rigorous assessment. 

The 116-page report is here.

Township Trustee Spends $20,000 to Defend $758 Decision… Sounds About Right

Since disbelief is already in the air due to the wonder that is the NCAA hoops tourney (Go Dawgs!), here’s a shocker to add to the list from the world of township governance. The Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP) blog sums it up aptly, but hold onto your beverage while reading (and hopefully that beverage is just coffee since it’s only 8 a.m.):

(Thursday’s) Indianapolis Star includes an interesting article on the latest antics from the world of township government – the Washington Township (Marion County) trustee racking up $20,000 in legal bills in a dispute over $758 in poor relief aid sought by a township resident for help with her rent and water bills.

Of the many troubling issues this story raises, two stand out.  First, the idea that these sorts of fiscally imprudent decisions are being made with little or no oversight by 1,008 separately-elected township officials is disheartening given the dire financial straits of state and local governments. 

Across Indiana, local officials are debating cuts in education, infrastructure, public safety and more.  Counties and municipalities are making tough choices.  Our legislature has made these choices even tougher by not stepping to the plate and making its own difficult political decision to reform local government, at least by demanding more oversight and streamlining of township offices.  And so we continue to be burdened by another layer of government bureaucracy that consumes and squanders tax dollars.

As to the circumstances of the Washington Township case itself, it’s difficult to argue the merits of either side on the basis of any statewide or even countywide guidelines.  That’s the second issue – there are no common rules for the provision of poor relief in Indiana.  Each township sets its own, leading to a patchwork approach that’s unfair and inefficient.  More than half the state’s townships provide relief to 20 households or less, and spend three dollars in overhead for every one that actually reaches a disadvantaged family.   It’s no surprise that disputes such as the one in Washington Township arise.

While the General Assembly again failed to take action on local government reform this session, more and more communities are exploring consolidation themselves out of financial necessity.  As these efforts multiply across the state and the fiscal climate continues to worsen, let’s hope that common sense reform – starting with township government – begins to gain more converts among lawmakers.

Indy Star: Statehouse Needs Push Toward Government Efficiency

Current economic realities make it even more compelling to overcome the political resistance against making needed changes regarding how communities deliver local government services in the most efficient way. Today’s Indianapolis Star editorial discusses some encouraging leadership around Indiana countered by, in the Statehouse, the reality of partisan politics. Please take a moment to call, write or e-mail your legislators and let them know that you want them to support meaningful efficiency and change with township government during this session.

Find your elected officials here.