Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fit City: How Somerville Became A National Model Of Healthy Living

“Pedestrians in this city of 77,500 stride onto bright, recently striped crosswalks. Bicyclists, who until this year navigated traffic aided by a single bike lane, enjoy 2 additional miles of designated lanes, and almost 4 more are planned. In school cafeterias, fresh produce has replaced canned fruits and vegetables, and the high school retired its fryolator. The Neighborhood Restaurant now serves wheat oatmeal waffles with bananas in addition to bacon and eggs. Budding salsa dancers step-two-three in a new Recreation Department class that costs just $10 for two months of twice-a-week lessons. Five years after the city embarked on an ambitious collaboration with Tufts University called Shape Up Somerville to see whether systemic changes that encourage healthy eating and physical activity would help children stave off obesity, 10 communities across the country have begun testing whether they can replicate Somerville's success. In a separate initiative, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation plans today to name Somerville one of nine ‘leading sites’ for a $44 million ‘Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities’ program that will spread to 70 communities. The state expects to launch a wellness program informed by innovations in Somerville and elsewhere. For Nancy Lynch, 55, an administrative assistant in City Hall, Shape Up Somerville has removed financial barriers to keeping fit and helped her lose 10 pounds. She's among the 20 percent of non-union city employees taking advantage of a $200 subsidy to join a gym, which she couldn't otherwise afford, a benefit Curtatone hopes to extend to unionized workers. Lynch also takes the $10 salsa class. Climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, now a City Hall fad, is free. ‘I have more energy, and it helps you mentally too,’ Lynch said. ‘It's a big stress reliever.’ Somerville's campaign belongs to a general zeitgeist that promotes healthy living and counteracts the fast food and sedentary lifestyles that make that difficult to achieve.”


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