City Officials from Nine Southern States Attend Childhood Obesity Prevention Leadership Academy

Article excerpt

Nearly 30 local elected officials, senior municipal staff and school administrators gathered in New Orleans earlier this month for a leadership academy on developing citywide wellness policies to combat childhood obesity.

NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) hosted the Southern Municipal Leaders Combating Childhood Obesity Leadership Academy in partnership with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Given the higher prevalence of childhood obesity in the South, NLC and AASA competitively selected participants from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Setting the Stage

Mayor Chip Johnson of Hernando, Miss., kicked off the event by presenting an overview of the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States and discussing ways that city and school leaders can effect policy and environmental change. He encouraged municipal leaders to use their public platform to "create the opportunity and atmosphere for people to be healthy."

Mayor Johnson also emphasized the allure of a healthy community as a powerful tool in attracting new business and promoting economic development.

A keynote address by Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's national Leadership for Healthy Communities program, further emphasized the importance of engaging local policymakers in childhood obesity prevention efforts.

Rockeymoore highlighted the recently released Leadership for Healthy Communities Action Strategies Toolkit as a key resource for municipal leaders seeking to make their communities healthier.

City-School Strategies

City and school leaders who participated in a 2007-2008 technical assistance initiative sponsored by NLC and AASA served as faculty during the two-day leadership academy and shared strategies they have employed in their communities.

Local leaders from Charleston, S.C., Jackson, Tenn., La Mesa, Calif., Oakland, Calif., San Antonio and Savannah Ga., highlighted their development of local action plans to promote healthy eating and active living.

These speakers described several key strategies included in their action plans:

* Reshaping the physical environment and supporting land use decisions that encourage walking and biking;

* Developing partnerships with school districts to expand access to fresh, nutritious foods and opportunities for in-school physical activity;

* Enhancing utilization of parks and recreation facilities and afterschool programs to promote physical activity; and

* Attracting healthier food options to underserved neighborhoods, including community gardens, school gardens and farmers markets. …