Creating a Fit and Healthy Community

As obesity rates rise, mayors are taking action to help citizens improve diets and get moving.
Nancy Lemond, Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer, AARP | May 18, 2017
David Kidd

Editor’s Note: Over one-third of Americans are considered obese and, by 2030, 42 percent will be, predicts the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sadly, adults aren’t alone in this issue. The latest data from the CDC shows 17 percent of the nation’s children and teens are also obese. Obesity can put people at risk for other health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease. For these reasons, it’s alarming to see obesity rates rise. Fortunately, cities can do their part to reverse this trend and create a healthier America, which is what several mayors across the country intend to do.

There are many reasons why local government leaders support healthier habits in their communities. Adults who exercise eat healthy have fewer chronic medical conditions, and they may be more likely to engage with each other and give back to their community. They also tend to be more productive at work, contributing to the local economy.

Two ways mayors are bringing these benefits to their cities are by making exercise fun and creating a built environment that encourages physical activity. For example, Charleston, West Virginia. Mayor Danny Jones started the Walking 150 initiative, which encourages residents to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines. In 2014, 1,000 participants logged 150 miles running, walking or biking in 150 days. Local partners also sponsor fun events throughout the year to get the community outside and moving.

In Houston, Texas, Mayor Annise Parker initiated the Bayou Greenways 2020 project – a public-private partnership that is creating an expansive system of parks along the city’s waterways. When complete, Houston residents will have access to 3,000 acres of public green space connected by 150 miles of hiking and biking trails.

Helping children develop healthy habits is another way local leaders can make a real difference for their communities.  When children eat healthy and stay active, they are more alert in school and more likely retain what they learn. Through Live Well Allegheny – spearheaded by County Health Director Dr. Karen Hacker – schools are building wellness and nutrition into the curriculum. And in Portland, Maine, former Mayor Michael Brennan’s Healthy and Sustainable Food initiative supported several community gardens that provide local produce for school lunches. These examples show that when communities put a premium on health, they reap benefits across generations.


Listen to Nancy's conversation with Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett about the legacy of putting his city on a diet and taking the long view on infrastructure investments.

Listen below. You can also subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher, and check out our archives.

See more examples of how mayors are investing in the health of their communities.