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Top Policy Groups Take Action to Create Healthy Communities, Prevent Childhood Obesity
Date:4/30/2009

Officials convene to address access to healthy food and physical activity; four mayors and school superintendent honored for exceptional leadership

WASHINGTON, April 30 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Eleven of the nation's most prominent policy-maker groups have endorsed a host of comprehensive policy strategies and environmental changes to create healthier communities and help reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. Their support will be announced this week at the second Childhood Obesity Prevention Summit hosted by Leadership for Healthy Communities.

More than 200 elected and appointed officials and other leaders will attend the biennial summit, which will take place May 7-8 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. Representing states, schools and localities nationwide, they will focus on policy options that advance healthy eating and increased physical activity.

They also will honor five colleagues whose communities have implemented innovative approaches: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Superintendent Roel Gonzalez of the Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District in Texas; Mayor Darwin Hindman of Columbia, Mo.; San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom; and Mayor Claude Ramsey of Hamilton County, Tenn.

Leadership for Healthy Communities is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that works in collaboration with 11 influential groups: the American Association of School Administrators; International City/County Management Association; Local Government Commission; Council of State Governments; National Association of Counties; National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund; National Association of State Boards of Education; National Conference of State Legislatures; National League of Cities; National School Boards Association; and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"The need for action is clear," the organizations declare in an unequivocal joint statement. Signed by each group's executive director, it concludes, "When policy leaders unite for a common purpose, it enables communities to tap into a larger network of social and financial resources. Together, they can support healthy schools, healthy communities and healthy children."

As part of a multi-year effort, Leadership for Healthy Communities now will recruit additional policy-maker champions to join the growing movement to reverse the epidemic of childhood obesity by 2015. They will benefit from a new toolkit to be released at the summit. Action Strategies for Healthy Communities, developed by the national program and its partners, recommends policy measures to increase physical activity and improve nutrition among children and families. It places special emphasis on the populations most affected by obesity and its serious health consequences.

"Day in, day out, the policy-makers gathered here demonstrate a commitment to improving the health of their communities and of our nation's children," said Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Ph.D., director of Leadership for Healthy Communities. "Their work is especially impressive and important given the economic challenges confronting state and local governments, as well as families across the nation."

The summit's honorees, who will receive the Healthy Communities Leadership Award, were chosen from more than 40 nominees. Their approaches illustrate the gamut of policies that can help prevent childhood obesity:

  • In New York, Mayor Bloomberg helped make that city the first in the nation to require fast-food and chain restaurants to provide nutrition information on menus. It also was the first city to adopt formal nutrition standards for schools and city agencies.
  • In the Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent school district, Superintendent Gonzalez eliminated fried foods, desserts, whole milk and fat-laden salad dressings from cafeteria menus. Gonzalez also opened up school facilities for community use during after-school hours.
  • In Columbia, Mayor Hindman's leadership in active transportation helped the city secure a $25 million federal grant. It has used the funding to develop a network of walking and biking trails that connect businesses and shopping centers to parks, schools and neighborhoods.
  • In San Francisco, Mayor Newsom supported an ordinance expanding farmers' markets in lower-income communities and requiring vendors to accept payment from federal, state and local food assistance programs. He also provided funding to 25 public schools for salad bars featuring locally grown produce and whole-grain breads.
  • In Hamilton County, Mayor Ramsey launched an initiative to make school facilities available to children and families outside of school hours. The county partnered with schools, restaurants and community groups to promote healthy menu selections and reasonable portion sizes using cartoon characters created by DC and Marvel Comics artists.

Today, nearly 33 percent of children and adolescents and about 65 percent of adults in the United States are overweight or obese. This health crisis disproportionately affects African Americans, Latinos, American Indians and Alaska Natives, as well as people living in lower-income communities, placing them at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other serious, chronic problems.

Beyond the personal health toll, overweight and obesity put added pressure on an already overburdened health care system. Studies estimate that the obesity epidemic is costing the country more than $117 billion per year in direct medical expenses and indirect costs such as reduced productivity and absenteeism.

About Leadership for Healthy Communities

Leadership for Healthy Communities is a $10-million national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation designed to support local and state government leaders nationwide in their efforts to reduce childhood obesity through public policies that promote active living, healthy eating and access to healthy foods. For more information, visit www.leadershipforhealthycommunities.org.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more information, visit www.rwjf.org.

    Contact:  Kathryn Bertram
              202-265-5112
              Kathryn@leadershipforhealthycommunities.org


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SOURCE Leadership for Healthy Communities
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