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$4 million going to help Cook County trim the fat

Monday, January 31, 2011
by Victoria Johnson

At least a dozen Southland entities are among 41 in Cook County awarded a total of $4 million to fight obesity.

The money, from a federal grant to the Cook County Department of Public Health and the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago, was made available to schools, local governments, hospitals and other community organizations to implement various programs aimed at tamping skyrocketing obesity rates. Some of the main areas of focus are:

Promoting breast-feeding

Making healthy foods more available and unhealthy foods less available

Creating more safe and convenient places for walking, biking and other physical activities

Increasing opportunities for physical activity in schools

Supporting children in walking and biking to/from school

Increasing access to services for adults at risk or with chronic conditions, including obesity

Maternity nurses at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park said they will use the $120,000 the hospital received to reinforce the goals of being a “Baby Friendly” hospital, an initiative guided by UNICEF to promote breast-feeding. This will include training for hospital workers as well as education for new mothers.

“Breast-feeding really does promote better health for the mom and the infant,” maternity nurse manager Mary Grimm said. “If we can provide more education for breast-feeding, then we can have a direct impact on the community.”

Community High School District 218, which includes Eisenhower, Richards and Shepard high schools, got a $143,000 grant. Anne Coffman, the district’s director of state and federal programs, said decisions hadn’t been finalized but that she and the nurses at the three high schools had some ideas about how to use the money.

“What we’re proposing is to set up and a run a variety of intramural programs to promote healthy lifestyles among students and possibly staff members,” she said.

The goal would be to reach students who don’t participate in competitive sports. Coffman also was looking into healthier food options.

“The biggest thing that we would like to do is really work on the choices that we have available in the high schools, primarily in the vending machines,” she said.

That would involve possibly subsidizing the healthy choices already stocked in vending machines so they could be offered at lower prices. Students don’t generally opt for the healthier snacks but might with lower prices.

Reggie Greenwood, the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association’s director of economic development, said the organization would promote zoning changes that would spur development in a half-mile radius around transit hubs, such as Metra stations and major bus stops.

“The more livable the streets and the more bike paths and developments around transit sites in effect leads to more walking and better lifestyle, and therefore better health,” he said.

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