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April 5, 2013

Local obesity task force struggles

Lack of manpower, funds and commitment stifle success

MEADVILLE — A small crowd of five students, Allegheny College Environmental Science Associate Professor Caryl Waggett and three community members, each representing a different organization, gathered in the college’s campus center on March 8.

After nearly an hour and a half of brainstorming, Waggett wrapped up as those present for the monthly Balanced Eating and Movement in Meadville (BEAM) meeting gathered their notepads and packed lunches, preparing to head back to work or class.

It was Crawford County Retired Senior Volunteer Program Project Director Whisper Romeo’s first BEAM meeting. She was also there to represent the local Family and Community Christian Association. She raised her hand and addressed the group, unsure of what she should be doing before the next meeting.

“I want to be involved but I’m not sure where to go and in what direction because I don’t want to step on anyone’s feet,” she said. “That’s why I was throwing out to them, where do we go from here, what’s going to happen? I’m the kind of person where I’m done talking about it. We need to be doing something about it.”

Romeo said that she got the sense that the group might have been burnt out, as though it hadn’t had enough support in the last few years. She hadn’t even heard of the task force until recently.

“I’m so shocked that I hadn’t heard of it, and when I did hear about it and all the wonderful things that they have done in the past and the different projects they have done, I was really impressed,” she said. “So it’s really sad that the word is not out, that more people aren’t knowing that this exists and that they’re trying to do these initiatives.”

BEAM formed in 2010 after the Meadville Medical Center’s 2002-2003 and 2010-2011 community health needs assessments for Crawford County revealed that both adult and childhood obesity are a regional problem.

But after three years of regular meetings, an exhausting three-month pilot program and dwindling attendance, the group’s capabilities are limited. A decline in committed participants, lack of money and the personal struggle that the most active participants face in finding time for the committee between their work and personal schedules have challenged the task force.

BEAM was envisioned as a collaborative effort that developed out of talks among Meadville Medical Center, Allegheny College and the City of Meadville. Waggett said that roughly 20 local organizations and institutions were present for the first meeting.

But for this year’s February meeting, which was the first since October, just 13 people attended. Five were Allegheny College students currently involved or interested in becoming involved with BEAM. For the March meeting, even fewer people attended.

Waggett addressed Romeo’s confusion, explaining that from her perspective, all planning needed to be made long-term, as the task force doesn’t have the energy, volunteers, money or time for short-term goals.

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