Mayors Shine a National Spotlight on Childhood Obesity

Article excerpt

Mayors and other municipal leaders joined 150 local, state and federal policymakers, community leaders and educators from across the nation at a Childhood Obesity Prevention Summit on October 18-19 in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The summit, which featured a theme of Connecting Leaders to Support Healthy Children, brought together city officials from Tualatin, Ore., to North Miami, Fla., to discuss the importance of preventing childhood obesity.

City-School Strategies

Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past 30 years, threatening the health and well-being of future generations as well as the vitality of local governments and communities facing rising health care costs. The summit highlighted promising city-school collaborations and policy approaches to reversing the childhood obesity epidemic. Local leaders discussed ways to reshape the built environment to encourage walking and biking, increase opportunities for physical activity, and establish efforts to reach vulnerable populations and initiatives to improve access to nutritious foods.

Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, Mass., discussed his Shape Up Somerville initiative, a community-based environmental approach to childhood obesity prevention that targets Somerville's first through third graders. Shape Up Somerville increases opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating before, during and after school. Studies by Tufts University researchers show that the initiative has produced promising results in lowering obesity rates

Lincoln, Calif., City Manager Gerald Johnson described how Lincoln's city planners have focused on increasing the walkability of the city's physical environment. Superintendent Roel Gonzalez of the Rio Grande City Consolidated School District in Texas addressed changes made in the foods served at local schools. The school district maintained the cultural foods that are student favorites, but reduced the foods' fat content and increased the nutritional value. Columbia, Mo., Mayor Darwin Hindman highlighted his city's efforts to construct sidewalks, bike lanes, and pedestrian and biking trails that connect directly to transit stations, schools, residences, businesses, recreation areas and other community centers through Columbia's federally funded PedNet project.

National and State Leadership

National and state leaders, including several members of the U.S. Senate, discussed programs and legislation that they are developing to reduce and prevent childhood obesity, and expressed their appreciation and support for the work taking place at the local level. …