Communities try new ways to reduce obesity
From creating bike paths to starting farmers markets, cities and counties are looking for ways to help residents make healthy lifestyle choices. Three communities in particular offer examples of the varying approaches local governments are taking to address obesity among residents.
Placentia and San Clemente, Calif., are using $500,000 grants over two years from Orange County Nutrition and Physical Activity Collaborative (OCNPAC) — a coalition of nonprofit organizations that provides grants to cities to promote healthier living — to fund a variety of health initiatives. Placentia is using its grant to create a farmers market, provide healthy snacks to children in after-school programs and to craft agreements with other governments and agencies to create more open space or to let residents use school-owned athletic fields. San Clemente is using its grant to develop a bike path master plan and to better market an educational program about the sugar and calories contained in some drinks, such as soda.
San Clemente’s soda education program is targeted at young people, says Rita De Forrest, an administrative assistant in the city’s Beaches, Parks and Recreation Department. “We’re trying to get our young people to think about how to be healthy,” De Forrest says.
The department also recently removed sugary sodas from dispensers in the parks, and replaced them with healthier choices such as water and juices. “We don’t want to promote soda drinking,” De Forrest says.
Orange County government staff members hold positions on OCNPAC’s leadership team and assist in the selection of grant recipients. “In Orange County, each city has its own culture and dynamics,” says Amy Buch, the county’s division manager for health promotion. “These mini-grants allow them to create programs that fit their dynamics and priorities.”
Jackson County, Ill., health officials are working with doctoral students from Southern Illinois University to create templates that would show small restaurants how they can incorporate calorie counts and other nutrition information on their menus. The county plans to review the templates this month, and ultimately they could be posted on the county’s website. “More and more national chains are doing menu labeling, so we’re trying to help local restaurants do the same,” says Angie Bailey, the county’s director of health education.
Multnomah County, Ore., officials are working on a program to encourage grocery stores to offer more varieties of fresh fruits by connecting them with local farmers. The program is one component of the Multnomah Food Action Plan, which will be implemented over the next 15 years, and also aims to encourage more urban gardens, develop farmer mentorship programs, increase land dedicated to agriculture (currently 28,506 acres) by 10 percent, and promote a local food system infrastructure that would include production, slaughtering, processing and recycling. “Given the obesity epidemic, we’re trying to look at all the tools available,” says Sonia Manhas, program manager for the county’s Community Wellness and Prevention Program.