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YMCA of the USA Announces 16 Communities Selected for Statewide Policy Change Initiative to Reverse the Childhood Obesity Epidemic

Communities in three states will serve as initial sites for initiative to promote healthier options in communities

CHICAGO, Aug. 5 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Sixteen communities in Connecticut, Kentucky and Tennessee have been selected to build statewide networks to help reduce childhood obesity rates, the YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) announced today. These communities will be part of Y-USA's Activate America(R): Pioneering Healthier Communities (PHC) initiative. Y-USA, the national resource office for the nation's 2,686 YMCAs, will draw on its successful, community-level PHC model, applying its experiences and existing networks of YMCA State Alliances to support policy, environmental and systems changes in the three states.

The communities selected are:

  • In Connecticut: YMCA of Darien Community, YMCA of Metropolitan Hartford, Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA, Wallingford Family YMCA, Greater Waterbury YMCA, and Wilton Family YMCA.
  • In Kentucky: YMCA of Burlington/YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, Frankfort YMCA, Hopkins County Family YMCA, YMCA of Owensboro/Daviess County, Paris-Bourbon County YMCA, and Pikeville Area Family YMCA.
  • In Tennessee: YMCA of Bristol, YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga, YMCA of Dyer County, and Greater Kingsport Family YMCA.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has committed $6.8 million over five years to support the expansion of Y-USA's PHC initiative. The 16 communities in Connecticut, Kentucky and Tennessee are the first group funded by RWJF, with communities in three more states to be selected in 2010. Each team will receive funding over a two year period to cover training and seed the implementation of a community action plan. The funding from RWJF will allow Y-USA to continue to spread its learning and experience in community-level efforts, and help develop these efforts into statewide models for six states with some of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country.

"Through Pioneering Healthier Communities, the YMCA is joining with community partners and local and state governments to reverse alarming trends in the nation's health," said Neil Nicoll, president and chief executive officer, YMCA of the USA. "PHC is helping communities to make healthy behaviors an easier choice, not just the healthier choice. These opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating are laying a foundation to help reduce the risk of chronic diseases that have taken such a serious toll on individuals throughout our communities."

"The actions of these sixteen communities will be important towards helping children and their families lead healthier lives," said James Marks, M.D., M.P.H., senior vice president and director, Health Group, at RWJF. "We're excited to support the YMCA as it expands its community-level leadership into statewide action. As a nation we need this kind of effort everywhere."

The effective transition of the local PHC model into statewide policy impact will require the coordination and cooperation of many agencies and groups. YMCA State Alliances will engage a team of state policy makers and leaders to examine existing policies and practices regarding childhood obesity, and to propose a state action plan to respond to the public health challenges of obesity, physical inactivity and poor nutrition. The statewide stakeholder team will work in partnership with the 16 community leadership teams to ensure that each community action plan supports statewide efforts. The 16 teams will focus on collaborative engagement with community leaders, how environments influence health and well-being, and the role that public policy plays in sustaining change.

Lead members from each of the 16 communities in the PHC statewide initiative, called coaches, will attend a Coaches Meeting in September 2009 in Washington, D.C., and learn methods and strategies for building and facilitating community leadership teams. Complete leadership teams from all 16 communities will then return to Washington, D.C. in February 2010 for a conference at which they will learn strategies for policy and environmental change from the nation's leading experts in physical activity, nutrition and building healthy environments.

For more information about Pioneering Healthier Communities go to

About Activate America(R): Pioneering Healthier Communities

Pioneering Healthier Communities (PHC) is a part of Activate America, the YMCA's response to the nation's growing health crisis Through Activate America, YMCAs are redefining themselves and engaging communities across the country to provide better opportunities for Americans of all ages who are struggling to achieve and maintain well-being of spirit, mind and body. PHC was developed with expert advice and assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Their input is helping to build an infrastructure for replicating model programs and approaches to develop healthy communities nationwide. In past years, Y-USA was joined in this effort by National Presenting Sponsors - PepsiCo Foundation, Aquafina, Kellogg's Corporate Citizenship Fund, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, JCPenney Afterschool Fund, and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), and by Expert Advisors - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Action for Healthy Kids, Active Living by Design, Alliance for a Healthier Generation, American Hospital Association, American Planning Association, Association for Community Health Improvement, Directors of Health Promotion and Education, the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors, National Park Service, National Recreation and Park Association, President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Society for Public Health Education, Stanford University Prevention Research Center, Trust for America's Health and University of North Carolina Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Activate America builds upon the YMCA's proud heritage of pioneering timely programs that respond to societal needs.

The YMCA: A Long-Standing Commitment to Health of Spirit, Mind and Body

YMCA of the USA is the national resource office for the nation's 2,686 YMCAs, which serve 21 million people each year, including nearly 10 million children under the age of 18. YMCAs respond to critical social needs by drawing on their collective strength as one of America's largest not-for-profit community service organizations. Through a variety of programs and services focused on the holistic development of children and youth, family strengthening, and health and well-being for all, YMCAs unite men, women and children of all ages, faiths, backgrounds, abilities and income levels. From urban areas to small towns, YMCAs have proudly served America's communities for nearly 160 years by building healthy spirit, mind and body for all. Visit to find your local YMCA.

About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

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 than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit

    Kelly Kennai

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