More than forty percent of all children in Holyoke, Massachusetts are overweight or obese. That’s about ten percent higher than the national rate, and it’s prompting a slew of city initiatives to promote fitness and good nutrition — starting this weekend.
Holyoke has signed on to join First Lady Michelle obama’s anti-obesity campaign by becoming a “let’s move city” — that means city leaders commit to several key health initiatives, including early childhood nutrition and fitness, and new school food guidelines. City officials are celebrating the designation this weekend, with a Puerto Rican cultural festival that focuses on fitness and nutrition , and a public cooking competition starring Mayor Alex Morse. Laura Porter runs the Holyoke Food and Fitness Policy Council, a grant-funded group that sponsors many city-wide projects. She says media coverage of the obesity epidemic has helped increase general awareness of the problem, but she says the key to change still lies in community-wide improvements.
“In a place like Holyoke, where we feel like access to health food needs to be increased, that may not be something that an individual identifies, although if you talk to them and ask where they go shopping, they may say — at the corner store. ‘This is what i usually eat because it’s convenient.'”
And many corner stores, she says, only offer high calorie, packaged food. To address that problem, an anti-poverty group called the Alliance to Develop Power is planning to open a new bodega in downtown Holyoke — the group says it will be similar to a typical convenience store, but with a focus on healthy and fresh options. The public is invited next wednesday to a planning meeting for the new bodega.