Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Mayors from 19 Mid South Cities Focus on Childhood Obesity and Public Health

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Mayors from 19 Mid South Cities Focus on Childhood Obesity and Public Health

Article excerpt

Mayors and other municipal leaders from 19 cities and towns in the Mid South--where childhood obesity rates are among the nation's highest -convened in Jackson, Miss., last week to learn and share ideas for building healthier communities.

"Almost every municipal leader in the country is charged with promoting the health and safety of their city's residents," said Mayor Patrick Hayes of North Little Rock, Ark. "The childhood obesity epidemic is too important for us to ignore."

The meeting officially kicked off the Municipal Leadership for Healthy Southern Cities initiative, which in sponsored by NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its Leadership for Healthy Communities national program. Through this initiative, NLC staff and two NLC senior consultants who live and work in the Mid South region are providing in-depth technical assistance to four cities--Baton Rouge, Little Rock, North Little Rock and Tupelo, Miss.,--as they take steps to promote physical activity and access to healthy foods.

NLC is also partnering with the Foundation for the Mid South, state municipal leagues and state health departments to assist 15 smaller, more rural communities from Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi in combating childhood obesity.

City Leadership

During the meeting, a panel of municipal leaders--including three mayors, an assistant city manager and an assistant chief administrative officer--reflected on the reasons that childhood obesity is on their cities' agendas, the political forces that come into play when addressing the issue and low-cost or no-cost measures that can jumpstart local efforts.

The reasons that city officials become concerned about this public health threat are often intensely personal in nature, noted Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed. Health challenges faced by individual mayors, council members or their family members, for example, can bring larger public health concerns to the forefront and motivate municipal officials to act.

"As mayor, I wanted to use my platform to make a difference," said Mayor Reed.

The panel discussion included acknowledgments that an issue such as childhood obesity can provoke local opposition. At the same time, Bryan Day, assistant city manager in Little Rock, and Dr. James Llorenz, assistant chief administrative officer in Baton Rouge, stressed that the opportunities to identify allies and build community coalitions in support of local action can be even more noteworthy. …

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