Last Sunday the streets of central Beirut were transformed by the Beirut International Marathon. For one day they were devoid of traffic, as people of all ages, religions, ethnicities, and nationalities walked and ran side by side. They turned the streets into a sea of people, all of them willing to sacrifice their time and energy in support of a cause. On that day HCI spread its message of healthy living to the more than 33,000 people in attendance. We sponsored underprivileged children to run in the marathon, encouraged them to exercise, and inspired their peers to do so as well. The HCI team made up of children aged 9 to 17 from rural Lebanon, many of them orphans, ran together to promote our campaign. The spirit shown by these children, who participated with boundless energy un-dampened by the rain, was perhaps the best advertisement for a healthier lifestyle.
This year’s Beirut International Marathon saw more than 33,000 participants, including, among others, the Lebanese President, Prime Minister, four government ministers, and many other Members of Parliament, brave the cold and the rain to come together and run or walk in support of a good cause. More than 4,000 volunteers also took part, including members of Human Concern International, a testament to the strong sense of community often displayed by the Lebanese. The marathon was truly for everyone, not only the professional athletes and victors. It was an event which gave many people the rare opportunity to run and exercise in a city where the absence of parks and public space makes it often very difficult to do so. For one day the sounds of car horns and the fumes from exhaust pipes were replaced by thousands of people singing, laughing, walking, and running. It was a demonstration of what can be achieved if we make the very simple choice to live healthier.
The Beirut Marathon provided HCI with a unique opportunity to spread our message to literally thousands of people. It was an opportunity that we did not miss. Before, during, and after the marathon participants and visitors received HCI’s awareness materials which encouraged Lebanese to take a second look at their diet, and, combined with our website (www.hcime.org/sahetna), provided them with all the information they need to start eating healthier. A 34-pages manual was produced to address all requirements for a healthy diet. “Food pyramid” posters were given to local schools, and placed in classrooms to let children know how much vegetables, fruit, grain, milk, oils and beans they should eat everyday. Children must know the importance of eating healthily, and these posters give them the knowledge they need in a colorful and engaging way. In the days and weeks leading up to the Beirut International Marathon, HCI utilized a booth in the heart of Beirut to distribute printed materials, and meet face to face with both marathon participants and members of the general public. By doing so we were able to reach a large number of people, promoting a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet. Through our website we were able to bring that same message to countless others.
In Lebanon and from the start we have encouraged healthy activities, as seen by our sponsorship of Beirut’s first ever Terry Fox Run in 1997. The Terry Fox Run, an event in which people of all ages come together for one day to run and raise money for cancer research, was only the first step. More recently we also implemented the national “Farm to School” project, which promoted healthy eating habits among school-aged children, along with many other objectives. Information is the key to combating the obesity epidemic. Better informed people make better decisions, and will lead happier, healthier lives.
The Beirut International Marathon happens only one day of the year, and reaches out to tens of thousands of people. On that day HCI did what it could to promote a more active lifestyle and a healthier diet, but in order for our advice to be effective it must be followed the other 364 days of the year, and reach millions of other Lebanese. Obesity is a serious problem that deserves serious attention. We must all pay more care to what we eat, and start to exercise regularly. HCI can provide the information you need in our online healthy eating guide, including ten recipes for specially developed nutritious meals which use ingredients easily available throughout the region, but only you can make the choice to change your lifestyle. Doing so will give you a longer, healthier, happier life, and help prevent what may soon become the most serious epidemic on earth.