Columbia Fights Obesity

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COLUMBIA - Two programs have started up in the past week, both aimed at improving the health and fitness of Columbia residents. The Walking School Bus resumed Monday, encouraging students to walk to school in groups rather than getting rides to school. The second initiative, Columbians for Modern, Efficient Transit (CoMET) began March 3, seeking to improve the public transportation system in the city.

These two programs stem from the Healthy Policy Environment Intiative (HEPI), which seeks to create healthier environments for low-income youths in Columbia. The project is funded by the Healthy Kids, Healthy Community grant, a $400,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation gives these grants to cities nationwide who aim to improve the health of their community through policy change. Columbia is one of nine communities across the nation to receive the grant.

The goals of the intiative include maintaining and building community gardens, establishing new neighborhood organizations and reinstating those that have become inactive, improving public transportation through CoMET and creating youth advocacy groups, among other things.

The programs are targeted at the low-income areas in Columbia, like the First Ward. Sam Robinson, the director of Healthy Community Initiatives with the PedNet Coaltion, says African Americans and Hispanics are at a higher risk for obesity and that obesity is correlated with low education levels. Fifty-seven percent of First Ward residents are African Americans.

Michelle Windmoeller, director of commucations for PedNet, says the effort is aimed at reducing obesity among children because they will carry on their lifestyle and eating habits in the future, affecting generations to come. By reducing obesity among children, it will benefit children in teh future. She also says it is important to spread the knowledge of eating healthy among parents because children are influence by their parents' words and actions.

Both Robinson and Windmoeller say obesity has become a nationwide problem and now is the time to address it before it gets even worse. Missouri was ranked the 12th most obese state according to an annual report, "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future." Columbia is one of 50 cities across the nation to participate in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's effort to reverse obesity. Kansas City is the only other Missouri city participating.