First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” program is moving into Beaumont. “Let’s Move!” which according to its website “is dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams,” was introduced at a Jan. 22 Beaumont City Council Meeting by Dr. Alan Coleman, Mayor Pro Tem, Ward 1 Councilmember and local dentist.
“The whole thing started at a National League of Cities meeting in Boston,” Coleman said. “It’s like a workshop for elected officials. I saw a program about childhood obesity and I’m into fitness, so I decided to go to that one.”
The National League of Cities (NLC) is an American advocacy organization representing 19,000 cities, towns and villages, and encompasses 49 state municipal leagues. NLC provides training to municipal officials, holds conferences, lobbies and provides assistance to cities in educational issues. More than 175 cities, towns and counties are participating in Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC).
Coleman said that the workshop turned out to be an award ceremony, and that initially he was disappointed.
“The National League of Cities gives awards for cities when you achieve certain levels,” he said. “They have a bronze level, a silver level and a goal level for each of the five goals.”
The five goals, as defined by “Let’s Move!” are:
• Goal 1: Start Early, Start Smart – Promote good nutrition in childcare facilities to decrease the prevalence of obesity in young children.
• Goal 2: My Plate, Your Place – Choose healthier foods for building plates at meal times and choose healthier choices among the food groups.
• Goal 3: Smart Servings for Students- Provide healthy food in schools and commit to increasing participation in the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program.
• Goal 4: Model Food Service- Implement healthy and sustainable food service guidelines in all city-owned food venues.
•Goal 5: Active Kids at Play – Increase physical activity by mapping local play spaces, completing a needs assessment, developing an action plan and launching a minimum of three programs aimed at increasing access to play.
Although initially disappointed, Coleman said that after listening in and discovering what the cities were doing to receive the awards, he realized Beaumont already had met many of the qualifications and should be eligible for awards as well. He met with a NLC representative and started reading out some of the health initiatives that Beaumont already had in place to the representative.
“She said, ‘You’re already halfway there,’” Coleman said.
In fact, in a Feb. 5 press release, the city of Beaumont announced that it had already earned two gold awards and two silver awards in five categories for its actions to improve access to healthy, affordable food and increase opportunities for physical activity — including a gold award for increasing the physical activity of children, which is Goal 5.
“It only asks for three programs aimed at increasing access to play,” Coleman said. “I got with Ryan Slott, (director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Beaumont), and we figured out that we have 17.”
Beaumont received a gold award for Goal 4, Model Food Service, as well.
“We only have one place where we serve food, during the summer recreation program at the Sterling Pruitt Activity Center, and our vendor is USDA approved and is serving USDA level food. So we achieved that goal.”
The city earned a silver award for its plan to work on Goal 1, which involves promoting good nutrition at childcare facilities, Coleman said.
“We’ve got a taskforce already formed through the City of Beaumont Public Health Department, the fire department, Baptist Hospital and Christus Hospital and HEB,” he said.
Other future plans include holding a city-sponsored class for September or October. All the childcare providers in Beaumont will be invited to attend and will be educated on proper nutrition for children. The class will also educate these facilities on fire safety, sanitation, and state laws regarding childcare.
“It’s a voluntary thing,” Coleman said. “But since there is going to be so much stuff happening, they’re going to want to come. Once we have that meeting, we’ll plan it on an annual basis. That achieves (Goal 1).”
Coleman said that city officials plan to meet with Beaumont Independent School District next month to discuss the initiative.
“If you can get kids two good meals a day, that’s all we can control — either in school or at a childcare facility,” he said. “The partnership with BISD is because they serve the kids breakfast and lunch. On our free lunch program, they’re doing very well. All of our schools have the breakfast program and 81 percent of our elementary and middle school kids participate in the breakfast program. The goal is 75 percent.”
Beaumont earned silver for Goal 3, which involves increasing participation in school breakfast and lunch programs. But Coleman said that BISD would have to work on the lunch programs if the city is to earn gold because only 61 percent of eligible students participate.
“We’re going to have try and find ways to get more kids to participate,” Coleman said. “I don’t know if it’s a peer pressure thing because they want to skip lunch to be thin or if in some manner people can tell if the kid is eating a free lunch.”
One of the plans that the city is considering is starting a public service announcement program using local athletes and through the medium of the Lamar University communication department.
Coleman said that parents must provide good nutrition to their kids, as well. “We’re depending on the parents to give that third healthy meal,” he said.
The one remaining goal that Beaumont has not achieved is Goal 2 — prominently displaying MyPlate in all municipal or county venues where food is served. Coleman said he is working Goal 2 by placing stickers on vending machines on city property.
“We’re placing stickers on (vending) machines that talk about good food choices,” he said. “Hopefully, someone doesn’t pick the Twinkies; they’ll pick the crackers and peanut butter instead.”
The city of Beaumont is following the lead of other U.S. cities including Charleston, S.C., Jackson, Tenn., and San Antonio, which have found success by using the program.
“It improves our health and it improves our quality of life in Beaumont,” he said.”
“Once they look at infrastructure, housing and transportation and determine that it may be the same (as another candidate city), they will then look at quality of life,” he said. “‘What do these cities provide our employees; what will make the difference?’ Beaumont is already a heart healthy city.”
To date, NLC has awarded 625 medals to local elected officials across the country, recognizing these leaders for their progress in adopting long-term, sustainable, and holistic policies that improve communities’ access to healthy affordable food and opportunities for physical activity. Each month forward, NLC is recognizing local elected officials who are achieving the LMCTC benchmarks by taking action to reduce childhood obesity.
“Local elected officials play a critical role in addressing childhood obesity in our country and communities, and we commend those leaders being recognized for their achievements in taking action to improve healthy eating and physical activity in their communities,” said NLC President Marie Lopez Rogers, mayor of Avondale, Ariz.
NLC is the lead collaborating partner on this initiative, working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Association of Counties and other nonprofit organizations in helping local elected officials implement policy and environmental changes to prevent childhood obesity. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded NLC a grant to provide technical assistance to elected officials working to create healthier communities and prevent childhood obesity, including sites participating in LMCTC.
According to the “Let’s Move!” website, “Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. The numbers are even higher in African-American and Hispanic communities, where nearly 40 percent of the children are overweight or obese.”
Kevin King can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 225, or by e-mail at kevin [at] theexaminer [dot] com.