editorial | Million pound challenge

Flab, 1; Boston, 0

Like the millions of New Year’s resolution-makers now jotting down ways to better themselves in 2013, the Boston Public Health Commission set an ambitious goal last April: to help residents to lose a collective 1 million pounds within 12 months. But that was more than eight months ago, and since then participants have only clocked in about 69,000 pounds lost. That’s less than one-10th of the original goal. The flab has won.

It would have made an inspirational story had the weight loss plan worked. Instead, it ended up looking a lot like everyone else’s doomed shape-up routines: full of great intentions and motivated by an inspirational goal — but ridiculously, hopelessly unrealistic. Just like individuals who set out on too-ambitious diets or overzealous workout routines, the city set its weight-loss goal despite overwhelming evidence that it wouldn’t work. Similar plans had failed in Philadelphia, Louisville, Oklahoma City, Corpus Christi . . . the list goes on. Instead of tweaking those plans by giving residents more tools to help themselves and one another — perhaps by handing out free pedometers or creating a number of visible support groups around the city or online — Boston gave the same old routine the good old college try.

In the face of this setback, it might be tempting to shrug our pudgy shoulders and admit defeat. But a more forgiving response is wiser, because living a healthier lifestyle doesn’t happen easily, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Goals should be set with that in mind — and with the understanding that, while small steps may feel insignificant, over time they can add up to meaningful shifts in behavior.