Cities’ efforts to combat obesity get state, national attention

The efforts of two Kentucky cities to slim down made news this week. On Monday, The New York Times ran a story about Louisville’s programs to encourage healthy eating and physical activity in an attempt to combat obesity. On Tuesday, the Lexington Herald-Leader ran a short story about the move to healthier snacks at two public pools. (Eric Crawford, sports columnist for The Courier-Journal, notes in a blog post, partly about his own weight issues, that Men’s Health magazine says Lexington ranks No. 25 in fatness nationally, while Louisville is No. 51.)

The Times story describes Louisville’s eight-year effort to combat obesity by establishing bike lanes, creating pocket parks, and making sidewalks wider and safer. The effort involves multiple city agencies and grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The results are hard to measure, sort of like a new dieter on a scale, reporter Stephanie Strom writes: “Successes on one front are countered by setbacks on another, and signs that the needle has moved overall are slight and mostly anecdotal.”

Former Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, who started the initiative, told Strom that the impetus to reduce the city’s obesity rate was economic. “For businesses, a healthy work force is more productive and less costly, so it became a competitiveness issue,” he said. “Every city was offering tax incentives, every city was offering real estate deals but not every city had the weight problem we do.”

The Herald-Leader article focuses on menu changes at two park pools’ snack stands. The new menus include options like fresh fruit, grilled chicken, and yogurt. The change is a joint effort of the city Parks Department and the Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition in Lexington to encourage healthier eating. As Coalition Chairman Anita Courtney told the Herald-Leader, “Concession stands are like pantries for kids in the summer. What they are stocked with is what they’ll eat.”

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