First Lady’s childhood obesity plan mirrored by NLC program
In February, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the "Let's Move" national campaign against childhood obesity. The goals of the campaign echo initiatives that members of the Washington-based National League of Cities' Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) have been implementing in their communities and promoting nationwide.
Let's Move aims to help parents make healthy family choices, ensure that schools serve healthier food, improve access to healthy, affordable food and increase children's physical activity. City leaders can play a vital role in achieving those goals, says YEF Institute Director of Youth Development Leon Andrews, who oversees the institute's obesity project. In 2007, through the support of the Princeton, N.J.-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the YEF Institute selected six cities — Charleston, S.C.; Jackson, Tenn.; La Mesa and Oakland, Calif.; Savannah, Ga.; and San Antonio — to participate in a one-year technical assistance program to help create youth and community wellness programs and fight obesity.
The program demonstrated that local governments can lower obesity by reshaping their environment through zoning, traffic calming, and creating transportation routes to encourage walking and bicycling, Andrews says. They also can promote access to nutritious foods in underserved areas and work with schools to provide healthful school meals. "Our focus over the next two years will be to take what we have learned [in the six cities] and work with mayors in southern communities in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi, where there are high rates of obesity,"says Andrews. The goal is to help cities and rural areas to adopt and implement policy changes that will increase access to healthy food and recreation, he says.
A fact sheet from the National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity, a project of the non-profit Oakland, Calif.-based Public Health Law and Policy, reports that obesity rates in children and teens have tripled over the last 25 years with 31.9 percent of young people ages 2 to 19 either overweight or obese. Obesity can lead to increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, asthma and other serious illnesses.
— Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.