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.

Healthy School Lunch
Cambridge, Mass., public schools offer healthy meals that celebrate cultural diversity.

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 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.

Students running in a gymnasium.
Cambridge, Mass., physical education classes have changed to focus on lifelong habits, such as bicycling, dancing and running.
Students waiting outside of Cambridge School during winter.
Cambridge, Mass., students get ready for a healthy, physical activity-filled day at school.

Originally posted on July 9, 2013.

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