Working Together for a Healthier Savannah

Southern city's leaders tackle obesity through an innovative initiative of policies and programs.

    • May 5, 2010

In Chatham County, Georgia, home to the city of Savannah, more than 29 percent of adults are obese. And, as is the case in many communities across the country, obesity and related health problems are worse among Savannah's African-American and lower-income residents.

But Savannah Mayor, Otis Johnson is determined to improve the health of his city and all of its residents. From the earliest days of his administration, he made community health a priority, bringing together partners from community and faith-based groups, non-profits, businesses and government agencies to create a city-wide initiative, "Healthy Savannah." Many of the organizations involved, including the Savannah Chatham County Public Schools, the Metropolitan Planning Commission, the YMCA, Chatham County Health Department and the Medical College of Georgia, already had been working toward a healthier community—each on its own. By working together, they realized, they could accomplish even more.

In 2007 Healthy Savannah participated in a leadership institute organized by the National League of Cities and the American Association of School Administrators. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through its Leadership for Healthy Communities program, the two organizations brought together city and school officials to help them think about how their policy priorities and decisions could improve health and prevent childhood obesity.

As local partnerships continue to gather strength, Healthy Savannah is taking innovative policy approaches to improving health. They include: doubling the value of food assistance benefits when EBT cards are used to purchase healthy foods at farmers' markets; providing healthier foods and beverages in school vending machines; commissioning a study of food deserts in low-income communities; developing new school and public spaces to serve as resources in low-income neighborhoods; and planting community gardens in areas that have the least access to affordable, healthy foods.

With Mayor Johnson's leadership, Healthy Savannah is working to improve opportunities for healthy eating and active living for all residents by 2012.