East Lansing as a city of health and wellness

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People may not think of East Lansing as an epicenter for health and wellness, but there are more resources than one may think. If one wants to maintain a healthy lifestyle it is up to them to do so. Community experts suggest the resources are there – people just have to go out and find them and take advantage of them themselves.

According to a study done by Sparrow Hospital, Ingham County, home to East Lansing, located in Ingham County, offers reasonable food sources. In a study focusing on the amount of available healthy food compared to unhealthy food, Ingham County rated a 6.1, meaning that there are more healthy options than unhealthy options. This data includes supermarkets, convenience stores, and fast food restaurants.

This graph shows which areas have healthy food compared to non-healthy food. The closer a city is to 0 the less healthy they are, the closer a city is to 10 the more healthy they are.


Ingham County does have the lowest index in Sparrow’s service area. However, since it is at a 6.1 it is still considered healthier than not.

Johnny Vlahakis, general manager and owner of El Azteco in East Lansing, described our town as “25 years behind schedule” in terms of overall city development, health and wellness. So what does being “behind schedule” mean for our town and our university in terms of the overall health the city provides?

Gina Keilen feels as though it’s not about whether we have the best resources, but doing your best with what you are offered. Keilen is a dietician within culinary services at Michigan State University. Her role allows her to work directly with the chefs in the cafeteria to determine what food is being served, the recipes the chefs are using and working with dietary restrictions.

“I’m not able to hold each person’s hand as they go to the dining hall and let them know what they can and cannot have, but from an education piece, holding different events and having different information pieces out there so they can make educated decision is more the piece that I take away from it,” said Keilen.

Keilen feels as though no matter where you are, you always have the choice to choose the better option. It is ultimately up to you how you decide to fuel your body both nutritionally and physically.

“Yes, there are better options for you in every category,” Keilen said. “So if you’re looking at pizza, there’s a so-called healthier pizza than others and some can be really bad. It’s being knowledgeable enough to make those decisions wherever you are. So if you’re at McDonald’s, are you doing grilled chicken versus the fried chicken type thing and making educated bases on that idea.”

While Keilen puts the responsibility on people to make the right choices regarding their health, Joyce McGarry, a nutrition and food safety educator, believes that there are challenges in people’s lives that inhibit them from doing what’s best for their health. The resources are there, there are just obstacles in the way.

“I was raised in East Lansing and see many more options for healthy eating than before. The challenges are still time, money and transportation,” said McGarry.

Anne Buffington, the nutrition program coordinator for the Health Promotion Department at Michigan State, sees challenges similar to those that McGarry addressed.

“I think students struggle with having the time to maintain regular eating patterns while attending classes and other academic or social activities,” said Buffington.

Michelle Gimbutis, who recently opened The Barre Code, a group fitness center, in East Lansing, is doing what she can to provide people with the tools they need to live a healthy lifestyle. In fact, Gimbutis is confident about the future health of East Lansing.

“I think it’s getting better, even from when I moved up here last summer. It seems like there are a lot more options out there, but I think we still have plenty of room for growth,” said Gimbutis.

Gimbutis specifically targeted East Lansing when she first thought about opening The Barre Code.

“One of the reasons I wanted to open a Barre Code here, besides the fact that I love East Lansing, is I felt that it was an underserved market in terms of group fitness,” said Gimbutis.

Gimbutis has a few ideas in mind of how East Lansing could be improved.

“I think it would be great if we could find some more quick options for people that wanted to grab something on the go. That would be great to see more of in this area,” said Gimbutis.

Something that Planet Fitness prides itself on is their affordability and accessibility, according to Assistant Manager Quanis Hopkins.

“We offer affordable memberships so that people can experience a gym without paying too much. Also, we’re a cardio based facility, which is good,” said Quanis.

Rena Martin, a senior at Michigan State University, is the vice president of Veg Club, which caters specifically to vegans. Considering vegans’ role in health and wellness is important because veganism is such a niche group, and there are many dietary restrictions. Not only is it good for the animals, according to Martin, it is also just overall healthy and the best way to eat.

“So when it comes to meat and dairy basically it’s so highly processed at this point because factory farming is so big now and we’re feeding billions of people through animals and basically they’re so highly processed at this point that it’s just not healthy anymore,” said Martin.

Martin also believes in the power of plants.

“Plants just serve every single health benefit as meat does, except no animals have to die in the process,” said Martin.

While at the university the club has been able to work directly with the chefs to make sure their diets are accommodated. Vegans find themselves struggling within the East Lansing community outside of the university.

“We try to share any kind of vegan restaurants or at least restaurants that have vegan options that we know of because we all struggle with that in East Lansing,” Martin said. “Blaze Pizza has vegan cheese, which is awesome, and a lot of the Thai places have vegan options, but no strictly I feel like healthy places. There’s not a lot of healthy places on campus just in general.”

In a town, it is important to accommodate everyone, yet a group that feels as though they are a minority without options. And not only without vegan options, they feel as though there aren’t enough healthy options in general.

These are all important considerations because according to stateofobesity.org, a project in collaboration with Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Michigan is the 19th most obese state in the country at a rate of 32.2 percent. For youths ages, 10-17 Michigan is the 12th most obese state at 17.3 percent.

Overall, while East Lansing is by no means slacking in terms of health and wellness, there are still improvements to be made that will better the city. There are many ways that people can live a healthy lifestyle without anything fancy. Until East Lansing gets more resources, though, people can utilize what the city does have to do their best to make sure they are making their health a priority and taking advantage of the resources that are available.

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