Eau Claire Plan Commission removes BMI maps from comprehensive plan

This is a similar obesity map that was completed in Nashville, TN
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(WEAU) - The in Eau Claire Plan Commission has removed the idea of making Body Mass Index maps from the city’s comprehensive plan.

The plan commission decided Monday night to remove the BMI maps from the health chapter of the comprehensive plan, but the city council could put it back in if they choose to.

The map would show neighborhoods where obesity is clustered and would give the city an idea about where to add sidewalks and parks in communities that perhaps need more amenities to encourage healthy living.


EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – How do you turn a city struggling with obesity into a healthier community? In Eau Claire, city planners have been tossing around different ideas as part of its health chapter in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, including the “obesity map.”

Similar maps have been done in bigger cities like Minneapolis and Nashville.

The map is based on the body mass index or the ratio comparing height to weight and it would show neighborhoods where obesity is clustered.

A similar map from Nashville shows red neighborhoods indicating high levels of obesity and green neighborhoods which show lower levels of obesity.

If approved, a map would be done in Eau Claire neighborhoods as well.

But is mapping out obesity levels a violation of privacy?

The city says that’s not the case because the map shows no names, addresses or any personal information and doesn’t violate Hippa laws.

The map would be broad and show colors, not specific numbers, besides the key which indicates a range of BMI numbers.

The BMI data would be collected by sample. That means not every household will be measured.

The city hasn't decided how it will gather the BMI data but they're considering a grant to work with the CDC to do random phone interviews with people. No one would need to give away any information besides their general location and BMI.

Eau Claire’s associate planner Ned Noel says the map will lead the community to “understand and ask deeper questions about why are people in this area in the city healthier and why are people in this area dealing more with overweight," ultimately leading the city to consider making improvements to the neighborhood.

Noel said some factors may be due to a lack of sidewalks, trails, perhaps streets are unsafe for people to walk or bike, fast food restaurants may be prevalent or distance to grocery stores where fresh produce is may be far.

“It’s really trying to move from saying that individual has to do something different which is certainly a part of it to saying the community can do something different to have a healthier population,” director of Eau Claire City/County Health Dept. Lieske Giese.

Giese said if you’re able to walk from your house to the neighborhood school or encourage your kids to walk to school, you’re more likely to be healthy. Where sidewalks are not present, it may not be safe and walking could be discouraged.

“Wisconsin has a very high obesity rate compared to the res tfo the nation and Eau Claire County does as well,” said Giese.

She says more than half of the county is considered overweight while more than a quarter of those people are considered obese.

There are other maps too like the food desert map which looks at neighborhoods that aren't very close to grocery stores and the Walkscore map which shows which areas are more car-dependent.

With all these maps combined, the city can start to think about adding sidewalks and parks in communities that perhaps need more amenities to encourage healthy living.

If approved this summer, the obesity map project could begin in 2015.

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