State officials and members of the local health care and fitness community gathered at the Body By Brandy gym in Roxbury for the kickoff of the “Mass in Motion” campaign. (From left): Angela Yarde, director, City Councilor Chuck Turner’s Roxbury district office; John Auerbach, commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Public Health; Brandy Cruthird, president and CEO, Body By Brandy; Joyce Stanley, executive director, Dudley Square Main Streets. (Tony Irving photo)
|State Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby speaks to attendees at the event held last week at Body By Brandy in Dudley Square to kick off the “Mass in Motion” statewide anti-obesity effort. (Tony Irving photo)
Massachusetts government officials last week unveiled a plan to tackle obesity after a Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation study revealed that nearly a third of the state’s school-aged kids are overweight or obese.
And more than 50 percent of the state’s adults are overweight or obese, according to state Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. JudyAnn Bigby.
Dubbed “Mass in Motion,” the statewide program includes an executive order by Gov. Deval Patrick that applies to all state agencies responsible for large-scale food purchasing. Under the executive order, the agencies must follow healthy nutritional guidelines in their operations.
If approved by the state Public Health Council, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, the program would also call for commitments from schools and chain restaurants later this year.
“Mass in Motion” will recommend that schools measure the body mass index (BMI) — a formula used to determine whether an individual is overweight or obese — of all state students in grades 1, 4, 7 and 11.
Results of the BMI measurements will be sent to parents, along with tips about weight-loss programs and appropriate exercises to help those who are overweight or obese.
The program, if approved, would require that chain restaurants with 15 or more branches display the calorie count of their menu items. According to state statistics, at least 2,000 restaurants in Massachusetts would have to comply with the measure.
But even before Mass in Motion’s official launch last Thursday, it already was triggering controversy, at least on the radio airwaves.
On WTKK 96.9 FM, one morning talk-show host was less than pleased with the school part of Mass in Motion.
“Tell me one parent that doesn’t know that his or her kid is fat,” said WTKK host Michael Graham. “This program will undermine parents’ role in deciding for their children’s health.”
Told about the host’s remarks, the state’s health commissioner, John Auerbach, told EthnicNEWz.org, “I completely disagree with that.”
“No parent wants an unhealthy child. Parents want more information,” Auerbach said. “What we’re doing with the BMI program is giving them the tools they need to make a decision, which will remain entirely in their hands.”
Some chain restaurants already display the calorie count of their offerings without being required by law to do so. At Dunkin’ Donuts, consumers are handed a leaflet when asked about nutrition facts. At Uno Chicago Grill, a computer displays ingredients and calorie facts for menu items.
Auerbach said he is confident that “when consumers are faced with calorie counts, they are more likely to order something healthier.”
For now, the school BMI program and the requirement that chain restaurants display nutrition information are both only proposals. The Public Health Council, a committee of local health professionals, will vote on the two proposals later this year. Auerbach told EthnicNEWz.org he expects the vote to be held in March or April.
According to Martin Cohen, president of MetroWest Community Health Care Foundation*, immigrants will be positively impacted by Mass in Motion.
“Immigrants come here healthy. But, particularly kids, they quickly adopt the local habit of eating fast food,” Cohen said. “If we can reach them early to inform [them] about how nutritious eating and exercise are important, that’s a great thing to do.”(p2)