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YMCA of the USA Expands Healthy Communities Initiatives With $6.8 Million Grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

ARLINGTON, Va., Dec. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) has received a $6.8 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to expand an innovative national initiative that helps communities address rising rates of chronic disease. Pioneering Healthier Communities (PHC) encourages policy and environmental change in communities to promote healthy lifestyles and provides opportunities for increased physical activity and improved nutrition. The public announcement of the grant was made today at the Activate America(R) Pioneering Healthier Communities national conference in Arlington, Va.

"YMCAs have championed healthier communities for nearly 160 years. We are recognized for our ability to bring people together on solutions to the challenges communities across the country face. To produce lasting change, we need to create healthier environments where we live, work, learn and play," said Neil Nicoll, Y-USA of the USA president and chief executive officer. "The investment by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will help us continue to address the critical issues that affect our nation's health and will allow us to provide support in the places it is needed most."

Every year since launching the initiative in 2004, Y-USA has chosen a new group of cities and counties to take on the charge of transforming their communities into healthier environments. The YMCAs in those areas then convene a team of local leaders who are committed to advancing policy and environmental change and who agree to help lead the process from planning to implementation. Many of the communities involved in PHC to date have reinstated physical education in schools, strengthened school vending and snack policies, improved trail systems and bike paths, created local walking clubs, planted community gardens, started or enhanced farmers' markets and worked with mobile food pantries-all changes aimed at healthier living.

The new grant from RWJF will allow Y-USA to continue to spread its learning and experience in community-level efforts and develop them as a statewide model for six states where childhood obesity rates are among the highest in the country. These states will be identified early next year. Each team will receive $50,000 over a two year period to cover training and seed implementation of a community action plan.

"Combating obesity calls on us to change the very landscape of our communities," said James Marks, M.D., M.P.H., a senior vice president and director, Health Group, at RWJF. "That's why the YMCA's approach here is so right and so exciting and why we are supporting it so enthusiastically."

Community teams selected to participate in Pioneering Healthier Communities are provided with ongoing learning opportunities to explore creative, proven strategies to improve their community's well-being through greater physical activity and healthy eating.

The initiative is part of Activate America(R), the YMCA's response to alarming trends in the nation's chronic disease rates. In addition to the RWJF grant, PHC is supported by a cooperative agreement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Cooperative Agreement #1U58DP001686).

     Kelly Kennai

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