Combating Boston’s Youth Obesity Problem
BU announces three initiatives| From BU Today | By Leslie Friday
At the recent announcement of a collaborative new public health initiative were Boston Public Health Commission executive director Barbara Ferrer (SPH’88) (from left), University President Robert A. Brown, and Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01). Photo by Cydney Scott
Boston—much like the rest of the country—is in the midst of an obesity epidemic.
More than 60 percent of adults living in the city are overweight or obese, with even higher rates for Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan residents, according to Boston Public Health Commission executive director Barbara Ferrer (SPH’88). The statistics are equally dire when it comes to Boston’s youth. Ferrer estimates that 30 to 40 percent of Boston’s school-age children are overweight or obese, with about 22 percent falling into the latter category. People have become less physically active, she says, and do not have a healthy diet.
To help combat these alarming statistics, Boston University, in conjunction with the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) and the Boston Centers for Youth & Families (BCYF), announced July 12 the creation of a new public health initiative, the Boston University Health, Fitness and Wellness Program. Informally, the program will be known as the Boston FitRec@Blackstone Community Center.
At a press conference in the community center’s South End courtyard, University President Robert A. Brown and Mayor Thomas Menino (Hon.’01) gathered in the late morning heat to announce this and two other initiatives designed to reduce obesity.
“Wow, what a way of rebuilding young people’s lives with this gift,” Menino told the assembled crowd, his voice carrying over the pounding of shoes from a nearby basketball court. “I look at BU because they always step up to the plate, they far exceed anyone else. Thank you, BU, for caring about the young people of our city.”
The three projects, valued at more than $1.2 million, will be funded by the University over the next five years; the other two are 100 summer camp scholarships for area youth and the donation of two hours of free ice time each week to the Allston-Brighton Youth Hockey league.
The University proposed the initiatives in response to community leaders’ concerns and a needs assessment conducted by the BPHC and the BCYF indicating that local youth need more summer program options for battling obesity.
This summer, the Blackstone Community Center’s 2,000-square-foot fitness center (currently housing showers and locker rooms) will be reconfigured to include a personal training space and up to 25 state-of-the art exercise machines—from treadmills and ellipticals to exercise bikes and weights. The five-year investment at the community center alone will be worth just over $900,000.
Staff and student employees in BU’s Department of Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (PERD) will supervise the center and train BCYF staff on fitness assessments and how to properly use the equipment.
“There are marvelous schools within the University that serve people in an urban environment,” Brown said. “This new facility will be the same kind of fitness environment that our BU students have, with state-of-the-art facilities. It’s a win-win situation—we’re helping the community and our students will gain experience in their chosen fields when they volunteer at the center.”
Ferrer says the University’s contribution is unique, because instead of merely instructing people to be more active, it is providing the community with the tools and resources necessary to make a difference.
“If you tell people they need to exercise, but they have no affordable place to do so and they live on a limited income, that’s not a message that resonates,” says Ferrer, a School of Public Health adjunct assistant professor. She says that most families are able to afford a community center membership (often offered free or at a reduced price for youth), and that this new program will ensure access to good machines, experienced physical trainers, and additional programs like nutrition classes through future collaborations with SPH, Sargent College, and the School of Social Work. “This is an initiative that’s really going to make a tremendous difference to the city in fighting the obesity epidemic.”
The 100 summer camp scholarships, worth $200,000, provided by the University annually over the next five years will be distributed by BCYF staff to local youth. These two-week camps, held at BU, will focus on skills training in basketball, hockey, wrestling, softball, lacrosse, and rowing.
And beginning this fall BU will donate two hours of prime ice time at Walter Brown Arena on Sundays, from noon to 2 p.m., to the Allston-Brighton Youth Hockey league. That initiative emerged through discussions with the Boston University Task Force and is valued at $125,000.
Amy Laskowski contributed to this story.