Communities are working to achieve a Culture of Health across Massachusetts, and in the eastern part of the state, obesity in kids under age 6 is down by 21.4 percent.
Efforts in the region include Shape Up Somerville, a pioneering campaign devoted to increasing daily physical activity and promoting healthy eating in a culturally diverse city north of Boston. The campaign was the subject of the first-ever study to show that community-based interventions could have a significant impact on children’s weight.
Some key elements of the program’s approach include:
- substantial food service reform in schools that includes offering healthy snacks, providing more fresh and local fruits and vegetables, training staff, and involving students in taste testing;
- improving physical education programming and gymnasium equipment in schools, and increasing physical activity in before- and after-school programs;
- launching a healthy restaurant program that highlights healthier options on local restaurant menus, and promotes participating restaurants;
- managing a mobile farmers market that travels to low-income and food desert areas, accepts nutrition assistance benefits (and gives a dollar-for-dollar match to everyone using those programs), and sources produce that is culturally relevant for the city’s significant immigrant population;
- working with schools to launch and sustainable maintain nutrition education programs and cooking classes;
- adding new bike lanes and traffic-calming measures to make streets safer and more accessible to bicyclists and pedestrians;
- introducing recreation programming that encourages people to be more active, including an open streets initiative called SomerStreets;
- adopting a 20-year comprehensive plan that aims to increase residents’ access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity;
- working with the city to implement an urban agriculture ordinance designed to make healthy foods more easily accessible, becoming the first community in New England to do so; and
- creating a plan to engage Somerville’s substantial Brazilian, Haitian, Hispanic, and immigrant populations in the program’s initiatives.
Other efforts to help kids in the region achieve a healthy weight include:
- Mass in Motion, a statewide program promoting opportunities for healthy eating and active living in schools, workplaces, child-care centers, state agencies, and communities;
- a wellness campaign in Boston, which helped implement a wellness policy for Boston Public Schools, ban sales of sugary drinks on city property, and start campaigns to make neighborhoods more walkable and healthy food more accessible;
- the Cambridge Healthy Children Task Force, which promotes “5-2-1” guidelines for children through a variety of programs in schools and neighborhoods; and
- Get Fit Gloucester, which promotes walking, bicycling, and improved access to healthy and affordable foods.
Eastern Massachusetts has demonstrated a strong, long-term commitment to preventing and reducing childhood obesity, and places like Somerville show what happens when different sectors come together to create a healthy community.