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As our waistlines expand and the cost of health care continues to increase, it’s little wonder why there has been an increased focus on wellness. May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month.

Philip L. Haberstro, the longtime director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo & Western New York, sat down with The Buffalo News’ Brian Meyer to talk about efforts to promote healthy lifestyles. Here is a summary of the interview, which is part of the weekly “In Focus” series.

Meyer: Your mantra at the institute is “creating healthy communities.” Yet we’re seeing Americans grow more obese than ever before. We’re seeing some studies [point to] troubling trends. Do you ever feel like maybe you’re in the wrong business?

Haberstro: Not really, because while we recognize ... that physical inactivity has become an issue, if you remember years back ... I was very involved with the anti-tobacco movement. You can go back all the way to 1964, and at that time, one in two adults in America were smokers. Today, it’s one in five. So we have changed the culture in America in that direction, and I anticipate we’re going to be able to do the same thing [with fitness]. ...

Meyer: I alluded to some studies. There was one published last November in Men’s Health. It put Buffalo near the bottom as it related to heart health ...

Haberstro: There’s some evidence, certainly, that we’re not as healthy as a community. But as you know, you’re sitting with a guy who is a member of the Buffalo All America City Committee. And we have proven in the past that when we come together as a community, we can address these issues. A lot of good things are happening. If you just take a ride (or walk) in South Buffalo, or even here in downtown, you’re beginning to see more bike lanes. ... We are making some of those environmental changes that will allow us to be more physically active. ... The number of farmers’ markets ... We’re getting people to be more conscious about eating better. ... It doesn’t happen overnight. We didn’t get overweight and inactive overnight. And some of those factors go beyond us. They’re societal factors.

When I speak to the public and I ask them, “Did you walk to school when you were a child?” Most adults did. Today it’s different. So we’ve come up with antidotes. We’ve got the Walk Our Children to School Day, which is in the month of May. We work with the City of Buffalo on the district wellness policy. [It’s] very important that we get the young people out of the schools and into a healthy lifestyle. Another place where there has been good success in Buffalo and Western New York is workplace health promotion. We’ll be over with the healthiest employers initiative at the convention center in the middle of the month ...

Meyer: Let’s talk about legislating wellness. A big controversy in New York City – a plan that would basically raise the legal age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 21. Good or bad idea?

Haberstro: There’s two sides to that coin, as you know, in all of these things. I mean if a young person is [old] enough to go to war for our nation, it’s always the classic argument you hear. On the other side of the fence, we don’t want to be in a society that promulgates ill health. So [it’s] a balance between personal responsibility and societal elements, and a lot of times the societal piece comes through public policy.