New grant expands Baltimore's 'B'more Fit' program [Commentary]

It is certainly not news that obesity is a growing health problem in this country and in the city of Baltimore. What is alarming, however, is that obesity has a disproportionately higher rate and impact on low-income, non-white populations in America. The city of Baltimore is no exception with a 36 percent obesity rate, including a 45.3 percent rate among African-Americans.

Our goal in Baltimore is to decrease the number of adults who are obese by 15 percent by 2015. We have the opportunity to provide our communities with the tools and support they need to improve their health and slow this trend for the next generation. Our community has already made significant strides in the battle against obesity, but our work is not done. We need to increase access to healthy foods including fresh fruits and vegetables and increase physical activity by redesigning local environments to promote safe and healthy physical activity opportunities.

To that end, Weight Watchers Ambassador Jennifer Hudson was in Baltimore today to help announce a new initiative through the Weight Watchers and U.S. Conference of Mayors Healthy Communities Grant Program. The new grant, funded by Weight Watchers International, Inc. and supported by the city of Baltimore, will expand the already successful "B'more Fit for Healthy Babies" initiative, which is led by the Baltimore City Health Department and the Family League of Baltimore.

As part of this existing program, Weight Watchers leaders host weekly meetings, and local fitness experts from the Y of Central Maryland and Brick Bodies will offer weekly exercise instruction to participants. More than 400 women have participated since the program began in February 2012.

Among the 100 participants at both sites (Druid/Upton and Patterson Park) who have attended the sessions for at least 12 weeks, 42 women have lost at least 5 percent of their body weight. A weight loss of 5 percent or more is known to improve health markers such as helping to reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease and improving blood sugar levels.

The new Healthy Communities Grant allows for the expansion of this program to serve more women in Baltimore's Patterson Park and Druid Hill neighborhoods, as well as the launch of a program at the Zeta Center in Park Heights for women and men, including seniors. Baltimore residents with a Body Mass Index of 25 or higher who receive assistance from a local, state or federally subsidized program (WIC, SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare, student aid, etc.) are eligible to qualify for the program. Those who qualify will have access to steeply subsidized Weight Watchers meetings, plus online and mobile tools to help them achieve a healthy weight, along with fitness instruction from local fitness experts.

Successful programs, like B'More Fit, prove that when communities have access to the right tools and support, people can achieve a healthier weight and maintain a healthier lifestyle. Through behavior changes, along with support from the proven approach from Weight Watchers, we can prevent the onset of diseases and illnesses associated with obesity and, in turn, set healthy examples for our children. We look forward to reaching many milestones of health and well-being together through this new initiative.

Dr. Oxiris Barbot is the Baltimore City Health Commissioner. Her email is health.commissioner@baltimorecity.gov.


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