(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
By now, it's no secret that First Lady Michelle Obama recently asked me to participate in the national launch of her initiative to combat childhood obesity, entitled "Let's Move!" A few weeks ago, I had the great honor of speaking alongside the First Lady, my fellow Mayor from Hernando, Mississippi, Chip Johnson, and representatives of top health and non-profit organizations at the heart of this important issue. Certainly, Somerville is no stranger to the fight against childhood obesity, having spearheaded our own successful program in Shape Up Somerville, yet the First Lady's initiative sheds new light on the national epidemic, and provides additional support and guidance to local initiatives - both in Somerville and across the United States.
Let's Move aims, among other goals, to inspire cities and towns to make healthier foods available to residents, particularly in low-income neighborhoods, and particularly through school programs. In Somerville, our Public Schools and School Food Services staff has created a national model of efficiency and success, through Shape Up Somerville, not only increasing access to fresh, healthy foods for breakfast and lunch, but have also decreased student access to less healthy snacks and foods. We have implemented a robust farm-to-school policy, established a school yard garden program, and monthly taste tests of potential menu items for students that highlight local produce and, through increased health curriculum and physical education, our students are making gains in meeting physical activity benchmarks and increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables.
But our successes don't end there. We're forging ahead with policies, initiatives, and programs throughout Somerville to create a more activity-focused, healthy community. In the coming weeks, we'll be rolling out the "Mayor's Shape Up Somerville City Health Challenge," offering incentives for increasing physical activity, making healthier eating choices and participating in City events like the Spring Cleanup.. We'll also be working with the Chamber of Commerce and local restaurants to increase the number of restaurants participating in the Shape Up-approved menu program while offering incentives to Challenge participants who patronize those restaurants.
Around the City, you may already have noticed infrastructure changes to sidewalks, such as curb bump-outs and crosswalks repainted with high visibility, thermoplastic paint to slow traffic down and provide safer options for walking and biking. New bike lanes were painted on major thoroughfares last year, and we'll be continuing that program this spring and summer, as well as continuing to renovate and add green spaces throughout the City: Hodgkins-Curtin Park, Morse-Kelley and Dickerman playgrounds are all slated for completion this year.
Mrs. Obama noted that it will take the work of the entire community, from businesses to school teachers and parents, to city government, to ensure that our children get, and stay healthy. Since the inception of Shape Up Somerville in 2003, we've made significant progress in the fight against childhood obesity, but there is much more work to be done. as we continue to work with the First Lady through her national initiative.
But it won't be easy unless we commit, together, to eliminate childhood obesity.
For many of the ideas outlined in Let's Move - from improving access to healthy foods in schools and supermarkets, to empowering families to make healthier choices at home, to sustaining recreation and athletic programming in communities - one argument is constant: family and business budgets are strapped, and these options involve time and money. In tough financial times, cities and towns turn to these seemingly smaller programs when it comes time to make budget decisions, and families find it difficult to afford fresher food options.
However, those families look to the leaders of our communities, to provide guidance on the tougher issues, and we can't and won't forget that one in three students is obese, or at risk of becoming obese, and battling all the related health issues that go along with obesity.
We must ensure that there are ample opportunities in the city to engage our children in physical activity and that we find ways to incorporate healthier foods into our schools, because as elected officials we are charged with ensuring the health and well being of all community members. I've made it clear from the beginning of my administration that cutting those programs is not an option, and I will work with my colleagues across the state and the nation to advocate for similar policies in other communities.
Shape Up Somerville is a community-based approach to addressing this national health crisis, yet we need the strong, focused committed leaders like the First Lady to continue to bring attention to this very serious health issue and to help advocate for our communities and our residents. I'm proud of what Somerville has accomplished, and I'm proud to stand by the First Lady as we work together to combat childhood obesity.