Sunday, April 1, 2012

Chelsea, Lynn, Revere, Salem get grants to combat obesity

Chelsea, Lynn, Revere, Salem Get Grants to Combat Obesity

By John Laidler,Globe Correspondent/April 1, 2012
Chelsea, Lynn, Revere, and Salem will each receive $240,000 over four years to support community-wide initiatives designed to promote healthy eating and exercise as a way to trim waistlines.
The gifts will enable Chelsea, Lynn, and Salem to become Mass in Motion communities and for Revere to continue in the program, a state initiative that promotes local efforts to curb obesity.
“We’re very excited because we will have dedicated resources to do the work we want to do,’’ said Mary Ann O’Connor, Lynn’s director of public health.
Founded in 1994 by Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Partners HealthCare is a nonprofit health care system that includes North Shore Medical Center, which owns Salem Hospital and Union Hospital in Lynn. It also includes community health centers in Chelsea and Revere - both run by Mass. General - and in Lynn, Peabody, and Salem.
“Partners is committed to supporting and working with the communities that we serve to craft tailor-made, localized programs that foster wellness and help to reduce the incidence of chronic disease,’’ Dr. Gary L. Gottlieb, president and CEO of Partners HealthCare, said in a prepared statement.

More than 50 percent of adults and nearly 33 percent of high school and middle school students are overweight or obese, according to state Department of Public Health figures.

Revere was among 10 communities to receive Mass in Motion grants when the state launched the program in 2009.

With help from other funding sources - now including Partners - the state has since expanded the program to 53 communities.

Other participating area communities are Everett, Gloucester, Lowell, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Somerville, and Wakefield.

Even before Revere received its initial state funds in 2009, the city had begun to take aim at obesity through the efforts of the Revere Cares Coalition, a group overseen by Mass. General’s Community Health Improvement Center that works to combat teen drinking and drug use.

With the help of the state money, the coalition has initiated an on-street marked walking trail, an adopt-a-park program, and an expansion of the city’s farmer’s market. It is now planning a community garden, according to Sylvia Chiang, manager of Revere on the Move, the coalition program overseeing those efforts.

With its state grant money set to expire June 30, Chiang said the future of the city’s program was in doubt. But she said the Partners gift now ensures that it will continue for at least another four years, and potentially encompass other initiatives.

“It is vital,’’ she said of the funding, most of which will go toward the salary of the city’s grant administrator, who collaborates with Chiang on the anti-obesity effort.

Although neither has been a Mass in Motion community until now, Chelsea and Lynn both also have existing anti-obesity programs that those involved say will be enhanced by the new funding.

Chelsea’s campaign is run by the Healthy Chelsea Coalition, which was established in early 2010 by Mass. General’s Community Health Improvement Center, according to Melissa Dimond, who manages the Chelsea program.

While public education is important in preventing obesity, Diamond said Healthy Chelsea is focused on removing the hurdles that can stand in the way of people living healthy lifestyles. She said that can include making the city more pedestrian-friendly and providing residents with greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

“It’s two pieces,’’ Dimond said of the fight against obesity. “First, you have to make it possible to be healthy, and second, you have to help people understand the need to be healthy. But if you don’t deal with the barriers, then people are stuck.’’

Even without Mass in Motion funds, Healthy Chelsea has done some initial work, including a successful effort to get the Board of Health to adopt a ban on trans fats, partnering with the schools to incorporate physical activity into learning, and starting a project to provide neighborhood markets with more fresh produce.

Dimond said the new funding will allow the coalition to continue and to build on those efforts, which she said are important to promoting the community’s health.

“Obesity is driving the rise in chronic diseases across the country, but especially in lower-income communities,’’ she said. “If we can change some of the root causes of obesity, we can avoid those cases of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses.’’

O’Connor said her city began the Lynn Food and Fitness Alliance several years ago through funding from the Boston Health Commission.

Its accomplishments have included spurring the Board of Health to adopt a trans fat ban last year, initiating an annual food and fitness festival, and working to add healthier options to school menus.

But the program ran out of money last September, so O’Connor said the city is pleased that it will now have the funds to continue it.

Salem does not have an anti-obesity program now, but plans to develop one with its Partners funding, according to Larry Ramdin, the city’s health agent. He said the city is also developing an overall community wellness program with help from Salem State University, and “we are hoping to meld both projects into one.’’

Ramdin said the anti-obesity effort would be community wide.

“The health of our community is not the city government’s responsibility or the individual who lives in the city’s responsibility,’’ he said. “It’s everyone’s responsibility, because we want a healthier Salem.’’

© Copyright 2012 Globe Newspaper Company.

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