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The City of Lawrence fighting obesity

The City of Lawrence and the Mayor’s Health Task Force Announce Commitment to Fight Obesity

Mayor William Lantigua of Lawrence has announced the city’s commitment to fight obesity. Together, the Mayor’s Health Task Force, the Lawrence Board of Health and other community partners are collaborating to put a recently-adopted Healthy Active Living Resolution into action. Among the priorities outlined in the resolution are improving recreational areas of the city to promote physical activity; increasing access to affordable, healthy foods; reviewing vending machine contracts across the city; and implementing a municipal employee wellness program.

“There is amazing work already being done to improve health in our city,” said Mayor Lantigua. “The Healthy Active Living Resolution cements our goals to create work, school and neighborhood environments that give our residents healthier choices.”

The resolution charges the Mayor’s Health Task Force (MHTF) and various city departments to submit recommendations to the mayor within a year. Potential proposals might include policy changes, recruitment of public and private partner organizations, and planning specific locations for community gardens and new parks.

A generous grant awarded to Merrimack Valley YMCA will help fund the strategies identified by the task force and its partners. Merrimack Valley Y is one of 16 Ys to participate in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) initiative. REACH targets Y communities which have a population under 500,000, are lowincome, and are at least 50 percent racial/ ethnic minority.

Being selected for the REACH initiative allows the Merrimack Valley YMCA to work collaboratively with and support the Mayor’s Health Task Force’s Healthy Active Living Working Group, co-chaired by representatives from the MVYMCA and Groundwork Lawrence, to address barriers to good health. The local portion of the grant is $150,000 over two years.

“REACH funding will help our collaboration implement evidence-based strategies and support new programs that enhance proper nutrition and physical activity, ultimately decreasing the incidence of obesity in Lawrence,” said Vilma Lora, coordinator of the Mayor’s Health Task Force. “All of the partners are excited about being part of the solution.”

One initiative to come from the REACH grant and efforts by the Mayor’s Health Task Force is the start of a public awareness campaign called SALSA. The acronym stands for “Supporting Active Life Styles for All,” and will promote standards for healthy living, educating community members about the importance of eating nutritious foods and exercising. Since its inception in 2002, the Mayor’s Health Task Force has been promoting healthy living and addressing health inequities through a variety of efforts, including community-wide education and awareness campaigns, health fairs, and health screening events. The MHTF Healthy Active Living Working Group was established in late 2010, bringing representatives from approximately 20 area organizations together to evaluate the assets and the needs of the community related to nutrition and physical activity. Group members created a community action plan, which aims to increase access to healthy food options and to promote opportunities for recreation and to stay active. The Healthy Active Living Resolution and the REACH grant are an extension of this wonderful work.

Many preventable risk factors— tobacco use, poor nutrition and lack of physical activity—are more common in communities of color, often resulting in higher prevalence of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and asthma, among others. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reports that nearly 45 percent of children and 69 percent of adults in Lawrence are overweight or obese.

The City of Lawrence fighting obesity The City of Lawrence and the Mayor’s Health Task Force Announce Commitment to Fight Obesity The City of Lawrence has had additional successes in revitalizing the city’s status as a great place to live, work and play, such as the opening of the Spicket River Greenway in June. The Greenway is a three and a half mile long “emerald bracelet” of green spaces and walking paths connecting parks and open space through multiple neighborhoods. The Greenway project earned Lawrence honorable mention recognition from the 2013 U.S. Conference of Mayors City Livability Awards. The awards honor mayors and their city governments for developing programs that enhance the quality of life in urban areas.

“Where you live should not affect your health,” said Peter Blanchette, of the Lawrence Board of Health. “Unfortunately, it is the reality of urban areas such as ours. This partnership to implement the Mayor’s Healthy Active Living Resolution will make a positive difference.”

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