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Putting Fitness First in Fontana

After learning that her hometown had some of the worst obesity rates in all of California, Acquanetta Warren (now the city's mayor) launched a campaign against youth "di-obesity" and for a healthy city

"It takes an entire community coming together with a common goal to enhance lives and achieve results." 

— Acquanetta Warren, Mayor, Fontana, California
Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren joined by children participating in the annual Let’s Move on the Trail Event

Photo courtesy City of Fontana

Fontana Mayor Acquanetta Warren (center) created the Healthy Fontana initiative (which includes the annual "Let's Move on the Trail" fitness event, pictured) to reduce obesity and obesity-related illnesses in her city.

While attending a meeting with representatives from the local medical center, Acquanetta Warren, then a member of the Fontana City Council, learned that her hometown had some of the worst rates of obesity and obesity-related illnesses in all of California. 

The information had an impact. Concerned about the health of her community as well as her own diet and lifestyle, Warren decided it was time for change. She started a campaign against what she dubbed youth "di-obesity" (that's diabetes and obesity combined) and in 2004 launched Healthy Fontana, a program focused on nutrition, active living, smart community zoning and planning, and health-enhancing community partnerships. Warren became Fontana's mayor in 2010 and was reelected in 2014.

Since the inception of Healthy Fontana, the city of 210,000 has seen a reduction in obesity rates and obesity-related illnesses. According to the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, Fontana has had a nearly 50 percent reduction in obesity-related hospitalizations since 2002 and a 46 percent reduction in obesity rates in children and adults between 2008 and 2012.

Over the years, the Healthy Fontana program has won several awards, including in 2016, when the U.S. Conference of Mayors recognized Fontana as the leader among mid-sized cities for childhood obesity prevention. 

Warren answered the following questions from AARP Livable Communities:

1. What are the Healthy Fontana and One Fontana programs?

"Healthy Fontana is a program I only dreamed of having more than 15 years ago. It was my desire to bring a program that focuses on health because without a physically healthy community, we can't be a healthy city. Healthy Fontana is now a robust program aimed at bringing the community together with a common goal of reducing the factors that negatively impact health. 

"We do this through four components: Nutrition, Active Living, Smart Growth and Community Partnerships.

"Nutrition and Active Living are educational components for which city staff visit community centers and teach tasty and fun ways to be healthy. The interactive lessons provide the community with options for how to lead a healthier life through portion control, a balanced diet and understanding the importance of reading nutrition labels.

"The Smart Growth component is designed to connect the community and make people aware of alternative modes of transportation — such as public transit, bicycle lanes, walking paths — as well as mixed-use zoning. 

"With Community Partnerships, the idea is to have public, businesses, medical industries and nonprofits collaborating to create a healthy community not only in body, but environmentally and economically.

"One Fontana is not a program. It's a philosophy.

"In Fontana we have some areas that are economically stronger than other areas, so we take advantage of those financially strong areas and reinvest in areas that are inherently more challenged. We call it the 'outside-in' strategy. It was created to make our city 'One Fontana' by strengthening all areas of the city to bring everyone together."

"Through its innovative and far-reaching programs, Fontana is taking bold and effective steps to help their young people graduate and lead healthy, productive lives. Fontana serves as an example to inspire and educate other communities across the nation to tackle the challenges facing their city and children, and to implement initiatives that give them the essential resources they need to succeed in life."

— Marguerite W. Kondracke, President and CEO, America’s Promise Alliance, in 2010 about Fontana, California, being named one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People. (The city made the 2008 list as well.)

2. What about Fontana is good for people of all ages? 

"Fontana is continuously developing and redeveloping to benefit all ages and demographics. This includes looking at housing, industry, retail, education and recreation with the mindset of creating a community that is economically and environmentally sound and designed to enhance the lives of all residents. We assess the community's wants and needs and develop new programs as necessary.

"I am particularly proud that Fontana has 39 parks and 10 community centers (one a 43,000-square-foot facility dedicated to the senior community). We also have thousands of activities, recreational programs and classes ranging from competitive sports to cooking, from crocheting to visual and performing arts, from lifelong learning opportunities to community-wide events such as the summer concerts in the parks and an annual cultural arts festival. 

"Healthy Fontana offers "junior chef" healthy cooking classes and is present in the city's after-school programs, which include a 60-minute active period for which running and tag games and various sports activities are planned. For adults, we have walking groups, fitness classes, and tobacco-cessation and weight management programs."

"Two cities in California’s Inland Empire, Fontana and Moreno Valley, took the second and third spots. Both cities have modest debt loads and large general fund reserves.... both of these cities avoided a fiscal crisis — apparently because officials showed greater discipline with respect to spending and borrowing."

— The Fiscal Times (January 9, 2017)

3. What are some of the goals for making sure people of all ages can live and thrive in Fontana?

"Our goals are to continue developing a community that has jobs, infrastructure and educational opportunities; that Fontana is safe and clean; that we offer a variety of housing and transportation options; and that Fontana is financially strong. In fact, in 2017 Fontana was named the second most financially strong large city in the nation by The Fiscal Times

"A few things we're working on include:

  • We have a 7-mile trail through central Fontana that runs east to west and is part of the Pacific Electric Inland Empire Trail that connects six cities. We're developing an 11-mile San Sevaine Trail that will run north and south through the city.

  • We're buiding a $5 million amphitheater that will be used for concerts and community-based cultural events.

  • We're expanding programs for senior citizens, including transportation and nutrition programs.

  • We're expanding our after-school programming, which currently serves 3,500 students at 37 school sites.

  • We're improving our transportation corridors to improve mobility through the entire city."

AARP: "What advice would you give to a new mayor?"

  1. You have the power, now stay humble
  2. Communicate
  3. Be inclusive
  4. Respect different opinions
  5. Take time to understand people and draw out their reasons
— Acquanetta Warren

4. What challenges does the city face in achieving its goals?

"Living within our means can be a challenge when having to balance the changing needs of the community with the funding available.

"Public perceptions can be challenging as well. Fontana is a work in progress and strives to overcome some past hardships, but we are financially responsible, safe and actively making our city a better place for everyone. 

"Another challenge is that, at times, we've been a victim of our own success.

"We've built some state-of-the-art facilities. Our Fontana Community Senior Center is one of them. That center was so hugely successful that it became a challenge to accommodate the many seniors that were coming to use it from inside and outside of our community. We had to add parking and expand programming. This has happened with other facilities as well. We construct top-notch facilities that deliver quality services that attract community members and groups from both inside and outside the city."

"To find out which parts of America are the safest, we looked at the FBI's latest report on crime and found cities with violent crime rates substantially below the national average.... These were the safest cities in 2012:  [No.] 15. Fontana, Calif. "

— Business Insider

5. What can community leaders learn from Fontana? 

"In 2013, the City of Fontana was named by Business Insider as being the 15th safest city in the nation for cities with more than 200,000 residents. This was a huge accomplishment because Fontana had experienced a surge in crime in the 1990s, but since then has made impressive quality of life improvements. 

"In the 1990s we were on the brink of bankruptcy, yet this year, as noted before, we were named one of the most financially strong cities in the nation. How did we change?

"We tracked crime statistics to specific multi-family tracts and we bought the properties and rehabilitated them and placed them under new management. That eliminated the source of crime. We also invested in our youth.

"To turn our city around we cut expenses, nearly 50 percent of non-public safety costs. We built reserves for emergencies and today we have $28 million in reserves. We kept our focus on core needs and services and cut administrative and management staff. We put fees in place that fully mitigated the impacts of development. Tools for efficiency and effectiveness were put into place.

"Since 1999, approximately $130 million has been spent on parks. We opened several community centers, built the largest library in San Bernardino County, an aquatics center and a water park.

"We spent 10 percent of the annual budget investing in the community in areas such as graffiti removal within 24 hours, safe routes to schools, pavement repairs. We invested in services and in projects and public safety. Departments worked as a team. We invested in technology and provided consistent leadership. We partnered with the faith community, businesses, education and county to work together to make a safe city.

"A strong foundation was built so we could expand over time. All of this has made us who we are today, which is a city we're proud to look back on that takes a quiet pride in its accomplishments." 

Portions of this article also appear in the "Health and Wellness" chapter of the AARP book Where We Live: Communities for All Ages — 100+ Inspiring Ideas From America’s Community Leaders. Download or order your free copy.

Melissa Stanton is the editor of and a senior advisor for the AARP Livable Communities initiative.
Page published October 2017

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