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Community partnerships seek to reduce obesity by promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles

January 15, 2013
Healthy Huntsville(Huntsville, AL) - Mayor Tommy Battle announced the 2013 kick off for the city-wide Healthy Huntsville initiative designed to reduce obesity by promoting healthy eating and active lifestyles. Health and fitness related events and programs will be available throughout the year at no cost to participants.

To lead the initiative, the Mayor has assembled a team to shape the 2013 program including the City of Huntsville, HudsonAlpha, Huntsville City Schools, Huntsville Hospital, and the Madison County Health Department. The non-profits are working to create at least one activity per week for the year, and they are encouraging other organizations in the community to join the cause and take action to reduce the incidence of obesity and its health and economic impacts in Huntsville.

"Last year, we launched Healthy Huntsville with activities that included fitness and recreation opportunities and nutrition programs," said Mayor Battle." We will continue that push this year, but we will also be promoting programs, policies and actions designed to reduce food deserts, promote the availability of locally-grown foods, encourage restaurants to offer healthy menu items, and to increase the number of recreational opportunities available to our citizens."

Obesity is a significant threat to every city in America, and experts say the epidemic is particularly alarming in children. This may be the first generation of Americans who may live sicker and die younger than their parents. The journal Health Affairs reports that "80 percent of children who were overweight at ages 10-15 were obese at age 25." What children eat and drink at school and the amount of daily exercise they receive is critically important.

That is why the Healthy Huntsville leadership team is excited to add Huntsville City Schools to its partnership. "We have been proactive in facilitating healthier standards across the board for our students," said Dr. Casey Wardynski, Superintendent for Huntsville City Schools. "This includes making certain our cafeteria menus meet or exceed all of the newest guidelines outlined under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Act. We also have a breakfast in the classroom program in over a dozen of our schools that is offered free of charge. Studies show that kids are less likely to be overweight if they start the day off with a healthy breakfast. The program has the added benefit of improving test scores and a decreasing absenteeism."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Alabama is one of three states where more than 50 percent of young adults are obese. Statistics are not available for Madison County, and the Healthy Huntsville team is pleased to announce that City Schools will now assist the Madison County Health Department in tracking data on the health of our children.

"I am excited to be part of this team and community effort in combating obesity," said Dr. Lawrence Robey, Director of the Madison County Health Department. "Overweight children and adults are at a higher risk for serious for life-threatening health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and asthma. Research also links lack of exercise to dementia and poor diets to cancer, not to mention the implied mobility issues. Every major chronic disease is affected by obesity, and a community wide intervention like Healthy Huntsville can make a difference."

HudsonAlpha's focus in the partnership is in genetics and research. "Regardless of genetic susceptibility and exposures, we can each make a decision to work toward prevention with a healthy diet and incorporating regular physical activities into our day," said O'Neal Smitherman, Executive Vice-President for HudsonAlpha.

Another Healthy Huntsville team leader, Huntsville Hospital, will work again with the City's Parks & Recreation and Green Team departments to offer free wellness sessions, physical fitness opportunities, hikes and nature walks, yoga by the river, nutrition information and more.

"You don't have to be athletic to be physically fit," said Kevin Ready, Director of Huntsville Hospital's Wellness Center. "We look forward to sharing lots of tips for keeping active whether you work at a computer all day or stand on your feet."

The financial consequences of poor diets and inactivity also are significant. The cost of adult obesity in the United States is estimated to be as high as $147 billion per year.

"We want to tackle this issue head on with innovative ideas and group thinking to help Huntsville citizens make smart decisions to lead healthy lifestyles," said Mayor Battle. "If we can work together to prevent problems before they occur, we can lower health care costs and improve our quality of life."

The Healthy Huntsville leadership team has selected Our Valley Events, a community online events website, for the official Healthy Huntsville calendar. Point your browser to www.ourvalleyevents.com/healthy-huntsville for a complete listing of free Healthy Huntsville activities. The first opportunity comes this week with Scale Back Alabama (www.scalebackalabama.com), the state's 10-week weight loss and activity program.

Community organizations wishing to sponsor a Healthy Huntsville event are encouraged to visit the Healthy Huntsville website at www.huntsvilleal.gov/healthyhuntsville and submit their ideas. A big salute to Adriane Scott Designs for creating a Healthy Huntsville logo to identify the city-wide program.

Healthy Huntsville generated exceptional community wide support last year with programs sponsored by partners such as Star Market, Fleet Feet, Sterling Health, YMCA, the Matrix, Huntsville Botanical Gardens, Mitzi Connell yoga, The Huntsville Times, Regions Bank, Joe Martin Fitness, Katherine Orton Fitness, Green Street Market, Madison County Farmer's Market, Food Bank of North Alabama, Lowe Mill, 24/7 Get Fit, Adventure Boot Camp, Riviera Fitness, Robert McAdory Training, Soles Dance Center, SportsMed, Whitnye Lolley, Yoga Center, Huntsville Hospital Diabetes Control Center, and the North Alabama Dietetic Association.

For more information, contact:

Kelly Cooper Schrimsher
Office of the Mayor

Rena Anderson
Director of Community Engagement
Huntsville City Schools

Dr. Lawrence Robey
Madison County Health Officer
Madison County Department of Health

Holly Ralston
Director of Communications
HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology

Cheryl Davis
Director, Marketing & Physician Relations
Huntsville Hospital
Phone 256.265.8317


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