Carrying Our Weight

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While our hometown auto czars were eating humble pie on Capitol Hill, a national publication was dissing Detroit on another front.

Of 100 U.S. cities, Detroit ranks dead last in healthfulness for women, or so said Self magazine in its December issue.

We flunked, the list maker said, because of obesity, among other things. But you had to laugh. For a bit of positive balance, Self noted that Detroit women are more likely to wear their seatbelts and less likely to die in a traffic accidents than their counterparts in other allegedly more healthful communities.

It always comes back to cars — “Motor City Muscle” — as one popular T-shirt boasts. We’ve always seen ourselves as being “like a rock” and “built Ford tough.” But in the eyes of outsiders, too much of that strength has turned to literal and figurative fat.

Metro Detroit needs a PR makeover, and we denizens need to join the public relations team. As was painfully clear when the car execs got their hands slapped for flying in style, image is everything. And, statistically speaking, our wide waistlines are blocking the view of Detroit’s many charms. Every time CNN, Newsweek, or whoever generates a health list, our collective poundage sinks us faster than a Hummer on Lake St. Clair ice.

Buying a new car is one way to sport a new body and gain the sense of starting over that a newborn odometer provides. And while taking the keys to a new vehicle does feed the local economy, we also need to step away from our cars and put a little shoe rubber to the pavement. Detroit’s famously big heart needs a workout.

To win at survival of the fittest, we need to follow the automakers’ desperation diet and get the lead out.

Luckily, for the able-bodied among us, getting physically fit involves a far simpler calculus than the current financial gymnastics making car-company accountants break into a sweat. As our story says on page 36, the human weight-loss equation is mostly a matter of basic math. Too many of us have been guilty of living on cruise control. And starting to shift gears could have the extra effect of stimulating the sort of mental muscle that we need to push our city forward.

My own walks include a good uphill climb. Trudging up that incline last weekend, with joggers passing me by and adolescent skateboarders on the easy downhill glide, I thought of how — unlike cars — foot mileage puts the human odometer in reverse, making us younger as we walk. Perhaps our automakers will emerge as lean, mean, and youthful when — and if — their tickers survive the climb.

Then we can reshape a national perception that belies our greatness. In that effort, as the Irish blessing says, “May the road rise to meet you.”

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