A Healthier Boston, One Step at a Time

Boston's moving for health!
August 14, 2012

By Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Executive Director, Boston Public Health Commission

The innovative program highlighted in this story, Boston Moves for Health, will be highlighted as a mobile workshop during NLC's 2012 Congress of Cities and Exposition to be held November 28 - December 1 at the Boston Convention Center. For more information and to register please visit www.nlccongressofcities.org.

Boston's moving for health! A new city-wide initiative launched by Mayor Thomas M. Menino has the ambitious goals of helping residents lose one million pounds and move ten million miles together. Through a number of community partnerships, the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) is increasing access to free and low-cost physical activities and healthy living resources across the city.

Announced in January 2012 during the Mayor's State of the City address and formally launched in April, Boston Moves for Health aims to make significant progress in reducing obesity rates in the city. The initiative has four main goals:

• Increase opportunities for adults to be more physically active, eat healthy foods, and reduce their consumption of sugary drinks;
• Increase opportunities for children and youth in childcare settings, schools, and out-of-school-time programs to be physically active and to be offered water with meals and snacks;
• Increase the number of workplaces that promote and provide healthy beverages and offer employees opportunities to attain/maintain a healthy weight; and
• Increase the number of patients and neighborhood residents participating in programs that promote healthy eating and/or active living.

"Together, we have come a long way toward making Boston a healthier city, and Boston Moves for Health is the next step forward," said Mayor Menino at the launch. "We have added healthier beverages to vending machines and cafeterias in our schools and city buildings, launched the innovative Bounty Bucks program to improve purchasing power at farmers markets, built hundreds of backyard and community gardens, and changed the way we use our city streets through the Hubway bike share program. Now residents can bring even more healthy changes home to their communities by joining Boston Moves for Health."

The cornerstone of the public-facing initiative is www.BostonMovesForHealth.org, a free online resource that allows participants to set health goals, record their individual progress, find community resources to help keep them on track, connect with friends and neighbors to share tips and workout routines, and view the city's progress toward meeting the challenge goals. The site was built and is managed by a local company called Fivi.com.

While Boston was ranked the third healthiest city in the country in the American College of Sports Medicine's 2011 American Fitness Index, obesity rates remain a challenge. Although rates in Boston are lower than the national average, 56% of Boston's adults are overweight or obese, with higher percentages in communities of color. Meanwhile, only 26% of Boston's adults and only 19% of Boston high school students consume five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

BPHC has made working with community partners from across the city and from different industries a priority for this campaign. Even before launch, the initiative had received support and funding from BlueCross/BlueShield of Massachusetts, Partners HealthCare, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and the Red Sox Foundation.

Since then, numerous local and national businesses, as well as individuals, have stepped forward to be a part of the movement by offering free and low-cost physical activities in their communities. One example is Fitness on the Plaza - a series of weekly summer fitness classes, including boot camp and yoga, held outside of City Hall that are free and open to the public. The program was a success and just a month after kickoff, Mayor Menino announced it would be expanding.

Another success has been integrating an existing community walking program called NeighborWalk into Boston Moves for Health. In June, the Red Sox Foundation announced a donation of $10,000 to support and extend NeighborWalk activities through the fall. Through BPHC, NeighborWalk provides $500 mini-grants to community-based, not-for-profit organizations that organize walks and recruit residents; identify convenient, accessible routes; and lead weekly walks. In 2012, nearly 30 groups throughout the city got more than 380 participants walking in their communities and logging more than 7,000 miles for Boston Moves for Health.

Even kids are getting involved. Through Boston Centers for Youth & Families, Boston campers are keeping track of their movement this summer, and in the fall, Boston Moves for Health will partner with Boston Public Schools to get students up and active, as well.

But the initiative isn't just about movement - it's about eating nutritious foods and maintaining a healthy weight, too. A partnership with Weight Watchers and increased funding for the Boston Bounty Bucks program to expand access to local farmers markets are just two examples of the ongoing effort.

With a current total of over 322,000 miles moved and 10,000 pounds lost, Boston has a ways to go to meet the Mayor's ambitious challenge. But with such high levels of enthusiasm, involvement, and community support, the campaign is already making great strides to support the health and wellness of the city of Boston.

***

NLC to Support Local Elected Officials Participating in Let's Move! Cities, Towns and Counties

Local elected officials are encouraged to visit http://www.healthycommunitieshealthyfuture.org to learn about a new NLC project supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help city and county leaders take steps to address childhood obesity.  As part of the Healthy Communities for a Healthy Future project, NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families is leading efforts to enhance the work of Let's Move! Cities, Towns and Counties, a key component of First Lady Michelle Obama's comprehensive Let's Move! initiative.  City and county officials are encouraged to visit the website and commit to achieving five concrete goals for improving the health and well-being of local residents by completing a brief survey.  In partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Association of Counties and other organizations, NLC will manage requests for technical assistance from city and county officials working toward these goals.  For more information, contact Tracy Wiedt at (202) 626-3002 or wiedt@nlc.org.