Communities Get Fit and Get Green
Oklahoma City is the latest city to promote a city-wide weight loss program. Philadelphia, Kansas City, MO, Louisville, KY, and Corpus Christi, TX have all announced programs that encourage citizens to get moving and lose weight. These programs generally offer services to the citizens to help them lose weight. For example, Tucson Challenge in Arizona provides links, handouts, workshops and newsletters for citizens. The programs have met varying degrees of success. Philadelphia failed to reach its goal of losing 76 tons in 76 days. After kicking off the program three years ago, Oklahoma City is a little more than halfway toward its goal to lose 1 million pounds. Programs like the Tucson Challenge, as well as Oklahoma City's "This City is Going on a Diet" encourage groups to sign up and challenge one another, providing a community support element.
For some cities, the weight loss program is not much more than a way to get people talking about weight loss. It may provide tools for weight loss such as body mass index calculators and tips on nutrition. But other cities use health initiatives to make sustainable changes to the community that not only effect health, but the environment as well. Cities like Charlotte, NC, Birmingham, AL, Portsmouth, VA and Oklahoma City, OK have included clean air projects, more sidewalks and parks, and an emphasis on local farmers markets to get their citizens healthy. As part of Charlotte's Fit City Challenge, the city banned smoking in public restaurants. The city has also built up area greenways to provide a safe place for people to exercise. Along with its weight loss campaign, Oklahoma City has built 400 miles of sidewalks, and 100 miles of bike trails.
Several municipalities have partnered with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Healthier Communities Program to design cities that encourage a healthy lifestyle for its citizens. In October 2010, the city of Portsmouth, Virginia launched a health and wellness initiative that includes streets accessible for bikers and pedestrians, health and wellness education throughout the school system and a media campaign encouraging communities to get healthy. Pioneering Healthier Communities in West Michigan has helped create farmers markets and community gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The farmers' markets and community gardens are in low-income neighborhoods where access to fresh produce is scarce. In a report last year from Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Mississippi was ranked one of the fattest states in the country. Its communities continue to wage war on the battle of the bulge. Birmingham's Pioneering Healthier Communities coalition approved a $11.6 million plan to repave downtown streets to include sidewalks and bicycle lanes.
One of the major challenges of these city-wide programs is keeping people motivated, as with any weight-loss program - Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett made changes to the city's program to re-energize citizens to lose weight. Permanent, sustainable changes like smoking bans and public sidewalks encourage healthy lifestyles that last over generations while showing the city's commitment to public health.
Photo by Lee J. Haywood