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Health: Why a Mayor Put His City on a Diet

The ability to live a healthy life can be negatively exacerbated or significantly helped by where a person happens to reside

Walking Bridge With Couple Crossing In Park, Outdoors, Daylight, Trees, Health And Your Community, Where We Live, Livable Communities

Richard Cummins/Getty Images

An Oklahoma City park, as seen in the Health chapter of "Where We Live."


Communities that put a premium on health — by increasing opportunities for physical activity, making healthy foods available, easing access to health care and helping residents manage chronic conditions and mitigate risk factors — reap benefits across the generations.

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Healthy, well-fed children go to school ready to learn. A healthy workforce is more productive. Older adults who exercise and eat a well-balanced diet have fewer health problems. And active resi­dents of all ages are more engaged with one another and with their community.

Mayors are stepping up to help residents eat better, exercise more and live healthier lives.

Takeaways:

  • Exercise and weight loss are easier when they're fun: Mayors are working to make fitness fun for people of all ages through weight-loss challenges, commu­nity-wide walking, running and biking events and other creative programs.

  • Changing the built environment encourages physi­cal activity: Public parks, walking and biking trails, sidewalks and pedestrian-friendly communities make it easier for resi­dents of all ages to get outside and get moving.

  • Healthy food is a key component of healthy living: Access to fresh, nutritious, healthy food options can be key to a healthy city. Mayors are working with local restaurants, grocery stores and community part­ners to highlight healthy options and make them more accessible.

  • Educating the next generation about healthy living is critical: Partnerships with local schools help kids start early, learning the impor­tance of sound nutrition and physi­cal activity.

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Here's What Mayors Have Been Doing

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Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, does a push-up

Photo by Mark Peterson/Reduxpictures/City of Oklahoma City;

Mayor Mick Cornett put himself and his city on a diet.

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Mayor Mick Cornett (Term: 2004-)
"This City is Going on a Diet"

A decade ago, Mayor Mick Cornett famously announced that he was putting his city on a diet. Spurred by his own experience scoring an obese rating on a federal health index website and stung by Oklahoma City's inclusion on a list of the nation's fattest cities, Cornett challenged residents to join him and lose a combined one million pounds.

Cornett's dynamic presence and creative pres­entation put a national spotlight on his weight-loss challenge. He announced the challenge standing in front of elephants at the Oklahoma City Zoo. The initiative's website — thiscityisgoingonadiet.com — carried on the colorful imagery, showing the city’s total weight loss as numbers of elephants while, at the same time, providing useful information about nutrition and exercise ideas for kids and adults. Residents who registered on the site were able to track their progress through interactive health journals that calculated calories burned through activities and exercise.

The city reached its goal of one million pounds lost, but, to Cornett, that was just the beginning. The weight-loss challenge started a community conversation about obesity and health. The next step is all about the long-term.

Building on a tax-financing structure and capital improvement program used by his pre­decessors to redevelop downtown and revitalize the city's schools, Cornett rallied support for initiatives that create new opportunities for rec­reational and other health-related activities: devel­opment of a 70-acre downtown park; construction of new sidewalks to foster a more pedestrian life­style; creation of new senior health and wellness centers; and development of a riversport rafting and kayak center on the Oklahoma River.

These new projects are all part of Cornett's broader vision: moving Oklahoma City from "fattest" to "fittest" and, in the process, making the city a more attractive destination for businesses and residents alike.

Learn more: Website for Oklahoma City 
Summary published June 2016 

Melvin Holden, Mayor of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, gets a flu shot.

Photo courtesy City of Baton Rouge

Mayor Melvin Holden gets a vaccine.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Mayor Melvin L. "KIP" Holden 
(Term: 2005-)
Mayor's Healthy Cities Initiative

Having seen the impact of diabetes, heart dis­ease and cancer in his own family, Mayor Melvin Holden knows firsthand the critical importance of living — and encouraging — healthy lifestyles.

Holden convened a group of community stake­holders to identify ways that the city can help its citizens get fit and stay healthy. The group recommended that instead of launching a stand­alone program, the mayor create a mechanism for collaboration among local organizations that provide health services and resources.

The result is the Mayor's Healthy City Initiative, a nonprofit that has more than 70 organizational partners ranging from hospitals and schools to other nonprofits and local businesses. This broad-based partnership expands the reach of the initiative, in an effort to give Baton Rouge residents — young, old and in between — improved access to appropriate health services and programs.

Learn more: Website for the City of Baton Rouge
Summary published June 2016

Charleston, West Virginia

Mayor Danny Jones (2003-)
Power Walking 150

Danny Jones's Power Walking 150 initi­ative is moving Charleston toward a healthier future — literally. In its inaugural 2014 session, 1,000 participants logged 150 miles running, walking or biking in 150 days. Building on this community-wide kick start, the program invites people of all ages and abilities to incorporate walking or other physical activities into their daily routines. In addition, local partners spon­sor a year-round schedule of fun events includ­ing group walks, runs and bike rides to get the community outside and moving.

Learn more: Website for the City of Charleston
Summary published June 2016

Eugene, Oregon

Mayor Kitty Piercy (2004-)
Paid Sick Leave

On July 1, 2015, Eugene's paid sick time ordinance went into effect — a law signed with pleasure by Mayor Kitty Piercy on the day it passed the city council. Under the new law, most workers in Eugene receive up to 40 hours of paid sick leave to use if they are ill or need to care for a sick family member. This can be especially important for family caregivers helping older loved ones stay in their homes, and it carries benefits across all ages as young parents need the same type of flexibility.

Learn more: Website for the City of Eugene
Summary published June 2016

Fort Worth, Texas

Mayor Betsy Price (2011-)
Blue Zones Project

Betsy Price signed Fort Worth up for the Blue Zones Project — a national program focused on making healthy choices easier in communities — to make her city a healthier, happier place to live, work and play.

Through partnerships with local businesses, schools and community organizations, Fort Worth is making wellness a priority across the city. Now residents of all ages have more healthy food options at res­taurants and grocery stores. Local schools offer expanded nutrition and physical education pro­grams for children. Businesses place a stronger focus on the health of their employees. And the city is implementing policies that encourage healthy choices and exercise.

The program is a win-win, aimed at lowering health care costs, creating opportunities for residents to engage with each other across generations, increasing productivity and improving quality of life.

Learn more: Website for the City of Fort Worth | Fort Worth is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities  
Summary published June 2016

Hernando, Mississippi

Mayor Chip Johnson (2005-)
Healthy Living

Since taking office more than a decade ago, Mayor Chip Johnson has made health and wellness a top priority. From establishing a new and improved city parks department, which has built five major parks and recreation facilities, to investing in infrastructure that makes the community more accessible to pedestrians and bikers, Johnson is working to lead his city into a healthy future.

His Eat Right, Play More initiative promotes health­ier school lunches and vending machine options. His Complete Streets policy mandates a sidewalk for every city road. And his efforts to encourage exercise through public activities and incentives led Hernando to being named the Healthiest Hometown in Mississippi in 2010.

Learn more: Website for the City of Hernando
Summary published June 2016

Houston, Texas

Former Mayor Annise Parker (Term: 2010-2016)
Bayou Greenways

In 2013 Mayor Annise Parker announced the start of the ambitious Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative, a public-private partnership to create an expansive system of parks along the city’s major waterways. When completed, Houston residents of all ages will have access to 3,000 acres of public green space connected by 150 miles of trails suitable for hiking and biking. The Bayou Greenways project also aims to promote a healthy environment by improving the city’s water and air quality.

Learn more: Website for the City of Houston
Summary published June 2016

Lansing, Michigan

Mayor Virgil Bernero (2006-)
Lansing Loses a Million

It's not every day that a mayor gets on the scale in full view of his constituents. But that's exactly what Mayor Virgil Bernero did to kick off Lansing Loses a Million, a program to help residents track their activity, weight and health and connect them to their neighbors. The pro­gram, one of the city's age-friendly initiatives, is a public-private partnership with organizations such as the YMCA that encourages participation by providing free day passes to exercise facili­ties. Residents who join the challenge get access to free diet, sleep and exercise tracking tools as well as fitness and nutrition coaching.

Learn more: Website for the City of Lansing | Lansing is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities  
Summary published June 2016

Louisville, Kentucky

Mayor Greg Fischer (Term: 2011-)
Mayor's Healthy Hometown Movement

With more than half of Louisville’s adults over-weight, Mayor Greg Fischer is taking action. The Mayor's Healthy Hometown Movement addresses the obesity epidemic through a range of programs. Simple changes to city infrastructure — like increasing the number of bike racks across the city — encourage physical activity.

Partnerships with local stores increase healthy food options. A menu-labeling program is designed to give diners at local restaurants nutritional information and encourage healthier recipes. And since 2005, the program has awarded more than $500,000 in grants to more than 100 community groups focused on obesity prevention as well as other health priorities such as substance abuse prevention and mental health.

Learn more: Website for the City of Louisville 
Summary published June 2016

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Mayor William Peduto (Term: 2014-)
Live Well Pittsburgh

On his 100th day in office, Mayor William Peduto kicked off Live Well Pittsburgh, a community-wide wellness initiative that is part of a broader effort, Live Well Allegheny, led by County Health Director Dr. Karen Hacker, to help make Allegheny County the healthiest county in the nation.

Through Live Well Allegheny, schools are building wellness and nutrition education into the curriculum in partner­ship with area hospitals, while older residents are stepping up their physical activity through exercise classes and community run/walk events. Restau­rants can receive a "Live Well" seal of approval by limiting transfats and offering healthy menu items.

Live Well Pittsburgh's initial focus is on making sure that families are covered with quality low to no-cost health care — its Healthy Together campaign — and that youth across the Pittsburgh area are connected to programs for summer and after-school meals — its GrubUp initiative.

In line with the county's vision for the region, new dedicated bike lanes throughout the city make biking safer for everyone — from kids with training wheels to commuters to older cyclists who may ride at a slower pace. Peduto's commitment to building a healthier city doesn’t stop there. As he said when he launched the Live Well Pittsburgh initiative, he is dedicated to mobilizing all aspects of city government — from planning and public works to parks and recreation — to give Pittsburgh residents "the opportunity of a healthy, well-lived life."

Learn more: Website for the City of Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities  
Summary published June 2016

Phoenix, Arizona

Mayor Greg Stanton (Term: 2012-)
FitPHX

Phoenix is encouraging its residents to get fit with FitPHX, a citywide health initiative led by Mayor Greg Stanton and other community leaders. The program matches private and public institutions with government resources to create healthy living events focusing on nutri­tion education, exercise and worksite specific recommendations. Programs developed through FitPHX include Meet Me Downtown, weekly group runs and walks to help make exercise a multigenerational social experience, and FitPHX Energy Zones, free nutrition and fitness education classes in local middle schools.

Learn more: Website for the City of Phoenix
Summary published June 2016

Portland, Maine

Former Mayor Michael Brennan (Term: 2001-2015)
Mayor's Initiative for a Healthy and Sustainable Food System

In Portland, farm-to-table has taken on new meaning. Then-Mayor Michael Brennan spearheaded the city's Initiative for a Healthy and Sustainable Food System. The program transformed the Portland food ethos while encouraging local economic growth and spur­ring cooperation between consumers, local growers, private companies and policymakers. Community gardens, planted and maintained in partnership with local farmers and nonprof­its, include a public orchard boasting 40 fruit trees. School lunches now include 50 percent local produce.

Learn more: Website for the City of Portland \ Portland is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities
Summary published June 2016

Spencer, Iowa

Mayor Reynolds Peterson (Term: 2004-)
Blue Zones/Healthiest State Initiative and Downtown Revitalization

In 2012 Mayor Reynold Peterson made Spencer the first city in Iowa to take the Blue Zones pledge to encourage healthy lifestyles. The city invested in community gardens, the promotion of healthy foods in grocery stores and new infrastructure including $200,000 worth of sidewalks to encourage walking. On top of the numerous personal benefits, the city has seen a 20 percent drop in health insurance claims for city workers, reinforcing the upside of public investments in health.

Learn more: Website for the City of Spencer 
Summary published June 2016

Saint Paul, Minnesota

Mayor Chris Coleman (Terms: 2006-)
8 to 80 Vitality Fund

Mayor Chris Coleman initiated the 8 to 80 Vitality Fund — a program to improve the city's infrastructure and public spaces — as a way to make outdoor activities in St. Paul safer and more accessible to residents of all ages and abilities. Focusing on street reconstruction, new bike trails and lanes, development of green spaces and more, the fund aims to enhance the city's quality of life. The project is based on the work of Gil Penalosa, a well-known livability advocate and consultant, and was recognized by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of the organization's Knight Cities Challenge — a competitive grant program that asks residents to submit their ideas for making cities successful.

Learn more: Website for the City of Saint Paul
Summary published June 2016

St. Petersburg, Florida

Mayor Rick Kriseman (Term: 2014-)
Healthy St. Pete

Mayor Rick Kriseman, improving the health of St. Petersburg citizens means promoting healthy options across four lifestyle categories relevant to all ages: Live, Eat, Shop and Play Healthy. Live Healthy promotes policies to increase access to health care, health education and nutritious food.

Eat Healthy offers tips to create healthy meals and runs programs like Fun Bites to bring healthy options to concession stands. Stores, restaurants and farmers' markets are partners in Shop Healthy to increase access to healthy food. And Play Healthy develops and promotes fun community activities to encourage exercise.

Learn more: Website for the City of St. Petersburg 
Summary published June 2016

Seattle, Washington

Mayor Ed Murray (Term: 2014-)
Increasing Access to Mental Health Care

Less than a year into his term, Mayor Ed Murray responded to the need to increase access to mental health care in Seattle. Working with Governor Jay Inslee, who dedicated $37 million between 2015 and 2016 to increase the number of beds at two state psychiatric and community hospitals, Murray has rallied local businesses and community leaders to support state efforts. Because many of Seattle's homeless struggle with mental illness, the mayor partnered with organizations to advocate for reforms and increased funding for low-cost housing options and improved health services. By working to increase access to effective mental health ser­vices, particularly for the homeless or those in need, Murray continues to act as a leader for the improved wellness of his community.

Learn more: Website for the City of Seattle
Summary published June 2016

York, Pennsylvania

Mayor C. Kim Bracey (Term: 2009-)
Eat, Pray, Breathe York

The health of York residents is a priority for Mayor Kim Bracey, who grew up in the city she now leads. Since taking office, she has led a comprehensive program under the banner Eat, Play, Breathe York in partnership with local and national organizations.

A Complete Streets policy adopted in 2011 focuses on improving the city’s transportation infrastructure in ways that promote physical activities such as biking and walking — something that benefits York citizens of all ages and from all walks of life. And in 2014, the city won a $100,000 grant to help combat childhood obesity. The funds are directed largely to York’s elementary schools so they can increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables, expand physical activity programs and develop school gardens to give kids hands-on opportunities to learn healthy eating habits.

Learn more: Website for the City of York 
Summary published June 2016

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