In April of 2010, the City of Montgomery got what Mayor Todd Strange called “a wake-up call.” A survey on obesity identified the Montgomery metropolitan area as having one of the highest obesity rates in the country.
Mayor Strange appointed a Health and Fitness “Czar” to address the issue, and a River Region Obesity Task Force (RROTF) was formed. The task force was open to any group or individual in the region with a desire to address the obesity issue. The first meeting was attended by hospital executives, school officials, dietitians, fitness coaches, nutrition experts, municipal, county and state officials, university and college representatives and even salespeople from weight loss product lines!
Safe Walk to Schools
The huge response was overwhelming. Among effort’s first accomplishments was securing a grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation to implement Safe Walk to School programs across the metro area. Superintendents in six systems agreed to identify schools in their districts that would participate in National Walk or Bike to School Day. Door prizes were given to every student who took part and random drawings for free bicycles and helmets at schools with the highest engagement helped ensure robust participation.
Parents were encouraged to walk with their children to school. Students who rode school buses were delivered one-half mile away from campus and walked with school appointed chaperones. Schools located on streets with too much traffic coordinated walk routes on their campuses for students to complete before the first class. The school events were covered by the local media and helped to heighten awareness of the dangers of childhood obesity. Walk or Bike to School Day has become an annual event. To date, 42 schools have taken place in RROTF coordinated activities engaging 28,685 River Region students.
The Task Force has quarterly meetings during which new projects and developments are announced and attendees can share projects, problem-solving strategies and grant opportunities. The successful completion of a pedestrian path in one community inspired residents in another community to pursue a similar project.
Moving the River Region
In August of 2011, an effort called “Let’s Move the River Region” was held with the objective of conducting physical activities for the entire family in every community in the River Region. City governments, churches and schools opened their facilities in the morning for group exercises. In the afternoon, everyone was encouraged to come to the basketball arena on the campus of Alabama State University for additional activities, speeches and giveaways.
Maintaining public and media attention on obesity-related issues continues to be an objective of the River Region Task Force. Doing so should help ensure that any individual or group has a fertile environment in which to propose ideas and strategies that lead to healthier lifestyles.
Local Contact/Link: http://riverregionobesitytaskforce.org/