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City officials from nine southern states attend childhood obesity prevention leadership academy.

Nearly 30 local elected officials, senior municipal staff and school administrators gathered in New Orleans earlier this month for a leadership academy on developing citywide wellness policies to combat childhood obesity.

NLC's Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) hosted the Southern Municipal Leaders Combating Childhood Obesity Leadership Academy in partnership with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Given the higher prevalence of childhood obesity in the South, NLC and AASA competitively selected participants from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Setting the Stage

Mayor Chip Johnson of Hernando, Miss., kicked off the event by presenting an overview of the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States and discussing ways that city and school leaders can effect policy and environmental change. He encouraged municipal leaders to use their public platform to "create the opportunity and atmosphere for people to be healthy."

Mayor Johnson also emphasized the allure of a healthy community as a powerful tool in attracting new business and promoting economic development.

A keynote address by Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's national Leadership for Healthy Communities program, further emphasized the importance of engaging local policymakers in childhood obesity prevention efforts.

Rockeymoore highlighted the recently released Leadership for Healthy Communities Action Strategies Toolkit as a key resource for municipal leaders seeking to make their communities healthier.

City-School Strategies

City and school leaders who participated in a 2007-2008 technical assistance initiative sponsored by NLC and AASA served as faculty during the two-day leadership academy and shared strategies they have employed in their communities.

Local leaders from Charleston, S.C., Jackson, Tenn., La Mesa, Calif., Oakland, Calif., San Antonio and Savannah Ga., highlighted their development of local action plans to promote healthy eating and active living.

These speakers described several key strategies included in their action plans:

* Reshaping the physical environment and supporting land use decisions that encourage walking and biking;

* Developing partnerships with school districts to expand access to fresh, nutritious foods and opportunities for in-school physical activity;

* Enhancing utilization of parks and recreation facilities and afterschool programs to promote physical activity; and

* Attracting healthier food options to underserved neighborhoods, including community gardens, school gardens and farmers markets.

During a session on city-school strategies to address healthy eating, Vanessa Ulmer, policy and advocacy coordinator at Tulane University's Prevention Research Center, called on municipal leaders to choose policies that "make the healthy choice the easy choice" by creating incentives for grocery stores and farmers markets while discouraging the establishment of fast food restaurants in close proximity to schools.

Participants also took part in a site visit to the Edible Schoolyard at New Orleans' Samuel J. Green Charter School, which educates children about how to prepare fresh food. The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESYNOLA) is a three-year old initiative that integrates organic gardening and fresh seasonal cooking into the school's curriculum, culture and food programs by involving students in all aspects of farming the garden--including preparing, serving and eating the food. ESYNOLA is based on the successful Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, Calif.

Next Steps

The leadership academy provided a forum for city and school leaders to discuss specific next steps for developing a local action plan and a citywide wellness policy to combat childhood obesity. The academy also served as a closing meeting for NLC's and AASA's previous six-city technical assistance initiative. A publication describing lessons learned from the cities that participated in this project will be available in early 2010.

Details: To download a copy of the Leadership for Healthy Communities Action Strategies Toolkit, visit www.leadershipforhealthycommunities.org. To download NLC's Action Kit for Municipal Leaders on Combating Childhood Obesity and to learn more about NLC's childhood obesity work, visit www.nlc.org/iyef or contact Lisa Sharma at (202) 626-3035 or sharma@nlc.org.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families
Author:Sharma, Lisa L.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 21, 2009
Words:650
Previous Article:NLC program offers savings for small cities.
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