In the fall of 2010, I approached Meadville Mayor Christopher Soff about signing Meadville up as a “Let’s Move City.” Intrigued by the idea, he passed it along to a collaborative committee consisting of administrators from Meadville Medical Center, Allegheny College and the City of Meadville (coined, MAC).

The MAC committee was discussing the most recent Crawford County health assessment data, which highlights childhood obesity as a prime health concern — more than one in three children are overweight or obese.

So, just as I was suggesting to the mayor that we get Meadville signed on to the U.S. government’s Let’s Move initiative, MAC was interested in forming a collaborative health task force to address this very issue. Lo and behold: BEAM (Balanced Eating and Movement) was created.

BEAM’s mission is to: Embrace a vision where our community is empowered to take positive steps to increase physical activity, make better nutritional choices, and improve our region’s physical environment.

We plan to enhance the current local nutrition and fitness options and provide support to local families. Over time, our goals include efforts to strengthen the school nutrition and fitness environment, partner with local supermarkets and restaurants, work to coordinate our efforts with local pediatricians and family practice physicians, and seek outside funding to help us reach these goals.

We realize these are lofty goals, and that they won’t be accomplished overnight, but just as I believe that individuals who make small changes in eating habits can achieve big improvements in health over the years, I also believe that Meadville can reshape the way we, as a community, view our commitment to healthy children. Yes, it is a parent’s responsibility to take care of a child, but valuing good nutrition and fitness for children must also be embedded into the whole community: home, schools, community programs, local eateries and the city’s environment.

There are a lot of factors that compete with the goal of getting kids to move more and play outside (television, computer time, video games), and many barriers to, let’s say, planning a healthy dinner meal (working parents, schedules, lack of cooking skills, budget constraints); but those barriers can be overcome. It’s partially about reprioritizing what you may have been taking for granted for many decades now: What you feed children, insisting that they “Go play!” outside, and modeling healthy behaviors is much more important that you ever imagined.

One of the first efforts for BEAM is a program called Passport to a Healthier You. This program aims to encourage area families to take advantage of local fitness and nutrition education programs and work toward gradually achieving better eating and fitness habits, and healthy body weights in the long run. The Passport program will help promote current fitness events and offer food and nutrition education opportunities to local families.

The program is offering a short-term pilot, from April through July. Families who meet full participation criteria will be awarded prizes at the closing event in July.

The kick-off for the program will be held at the Meadville YMCA’s Healthy Kids Day on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Families that have children in grades kindergarten through 6 are eligible to sign up.

Come join the fun!

Passport to a Healthier You sign-up and kick-off event (for families with children in grades K-6) is Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. It will be held in Meadville’s Diamond Park (rain site: Meadville YMCA).

- More information: “Like” our Passport to a Healthier You — Meadville Page on Facebook, facebook.com/pages/Passport-to-a-Healthier-You-Meadville/312575622110925?ref=ts

In 2011 Meadville Mayor Christopher Soff signed Meadville on as a “Let’s Move City” through the United States Department of Health and Human Services “Let’s Move! City, Town and Counties” initiative (letsmove.gov/become-lets-move-city-or-town).

There are four action steps the initiative would like the cities to choose from:

- Reducing the risk of obesity in early childhood,

- Making healthy food affordable and accessible,

- Providing healthy food in schools,

- Increasing physical activity.

The BEAM initiative and the Passport to a Healthier You program will serve to help Meadville envision how it will address the issue of childhood obesity locally, and help the city fulfill it’s Let’s Move obligation.

Stay tuned for more progress!

Rust is a licensed, registered dietitian, nutrition communications consultant, and author. To learn more, visit rustnutrition.com. Families who sign up for the Passport to a Healthier You program will be able to purchase “Restaurant Calorie Counter For Dummies” at discount on April 14.

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