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Keynote Speaker Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone Shares Insights on Healthier Living Through Shape Up Somerville

December 4, 2013 | Community News, Community News and Media


When it comes to creating a healthier city, it’s all about getting the city’s children eating smarter and moving more, according to Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville, Massachusetts’ who served as the keynote speaker for the Building Healthy Communities conference.

Located two miles northwest of Boston, Somerville, MA has a population of nearly 80,000 of which 36 percent of residents speak a language other than English and 12% live at or below the poverty level. A 2003 assessment of the city indicated that 46 percent of Somerville’s first- through third graders were overweight, or at risk of becoming overweight.  As a result, the city launched, “Shape Up Somerville, a major initiative geared toward reversing these statistics through increased daily physical activity and healthy eating. “As part of this initiative, we focused on programming, physical infrastructure improvements, and policy work aimed at schools, community groups, city government, civic groups and businesses.” stated Curtatone. “We looked at systems that could have a positive impact on addressing childhood obesity in their community including: open spaces, transportation, access to fresh food, recreational opportunities, zoning and developing innovative curriculum.

Over a two-year period, over 100 community events took place across Somerville, as well as programs and policies were implemented.  Shape Up Somerville began by engaging approximately 90 teachers who taught the town’s first through third grade students, educated families and community partners through newsletters, provided training to medical professionals, engaged after-school programs, recruited area restaurants and promoted policies throughout the community to promote and sustain exercise and healthier eating.

In the area of innovative curriculum, physical activity programs were implemented, including safe routes to school, walk-ride day, CYCLE Kids and new physical education curriculum, as well as a school wellness policy that included changes to lunch menu items.  Active transportation was also a priority and included upgraded intersections, light rail and community path extensions, and the encouragement of safe bike use with bike lanes, bike parking and corrals, as well as a bike share program.  Zoning, recreation and open space changes included, zoning upgrades, a complete street policy, park renovations and fitness challenge and employee wellness programs.  Several of these changes helped Somerville, MA to garner the titles of 8th Most Bikeable and 10th Most Walkable city in the nation.

Also, through partnerships with area restaurants, a Healthy Food Retailer Program was instituted where a staff of coordinators and nutritionists educated restaurant chefs and owners about healthy food preparation and providing healthier menu options at point-of-purchase.  Farmers markets, urban agriculture initiatives, school and community gardens helped to increase access to healthier food.

After the program’s first two years of intervention, on average, Shape Up Somerville reduced children’s BMI scores by .06.  “We’ve also seen an increase in physical activity, not only in children but in adults, as well as decreases in overall consumption of sugary drinks, sweets and snacks,” said Curtatone. “We are excited about the city’s progress and feel we are truly on our way to making lasting and positive healthy changes in the lives of our residents.”

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