The city of Louisville, Kentucky, is stepping up efforts to fight obesity, as noted in this New York Times article. More than six in 10 people in metro Louisville are considered “seriously overweight” and Kentucky ranks seventh in the nation for obesity. The rates continued to rise through 2008, while the percentage of the population reporting any physical activity outside of work fell despite public campaigns advocating more walking and biking.
More recent developments underscore the tug of war over food and weight:
- On one hand, Kentucky Fried Chicken has announced plans for its first non-fried menu while offering leaflets listing the calorie, fat and salt content of its entire line (as required by the new federal health act).
- On the other hand, its corporate parent, Yum Brands, was quietly lobbying the state government to turn Kentucky into one of the few states that allow the use of food stamps in its restaurants, which include Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
The city’s efforts to combat obesity, how and where it is spending money to fight it are instructive at a time when federal dollars are becoming more scarce and budgets are pinched. Cities are increasingly vying for nonprofit and government financing now available as concerns about the obesity epidemic have been underscored by Michelle Obama and others.
“For businesses, a healthy work force is more productive and less costly, so it became a competitiveness issue,” Jerry Abramson, the former mayor who began the Mayor’s Healthy Hometown Movement, said. “Every city was offering tax incentives, every city was offering real estate deals but not every city had the weight problem we do.”
In reference to a grant Louisville received from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help the city’s efforts, Mary Lou Northern, senior adviser to Louisville’s current mayor, Greg Fischer, noted: “The grant made us think about the problem differently, that it’s not just about smart growth, it’s not just about transportation, it’s not just about parks or better nutrition, it’s about all of those things and more.” Read more…