Legislative Briefs: Government actions on obesity

New Orleans holds first summit on childhood obesity
More than 100 health professionals, education advocates, business representatives and community leaders converged in New Orleans, all in the name of addressing childhood obesity.

Building on each others’ strengths is vital, Mayor Mitch Landrieu told the group gathered at City Park Sept. 29.

The city's first forum on childhood obesity focused on identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the area's existing resources and programs. Among the panelists and speakers was Kate Parker-Karst, assistant director of the Tulane Prevention Research Center.

Going forward, the city will hold strategic planning sessions for developing targets and measures, as well as policies and programs that support healthy eating and active lifestyles. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a shared community action agenda aimed at eliminating childhood obesity and helping families achieve healthy weight.

"Solving this public health epidemic will require personal responsibility matched with system and institutional level changes that make good, healthier choices easier," Dr. Karen DeSalvo, the City's Health Commissioner and Senior Health Policy Advisor to the Mayor, said in a news release. "The steps we took today will be the foundation of our journey to make the City of New Orleans a much healthier city."

Land use and its effect on your health
The Tulane Prevention Research Center is among several organizations educating the public and city officials as they update New Orleans' zoning law, which is a set of rules for developing land under certain categories, such as residential, commercial and industrial. The city's zoning, called the Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, is being updated through a multi-phase process that includes community meetings and other opportunities for public input.

Several sections of the proposed zoning law already promote best practices for active living, such as increasing bicycle parking. With one out of five households in New Orleans lacking access to a private car or truck, many residents commute on bikes.

Still, more can be done to support and encourage cycling and walking. The PRC is providing model language for zoning that would increase pedestrian safety and convenience by requiring sidewalks to be well lit and visible from inside buildings.

Such rules go hand-in-hand with those that increase residents' access to healthy food and decrease access to fast food. While proposed zoning rules allow broad use of community gardens and the onsite sale of produce, the PRC is also educating planners on federal laws that require all residents, including those with disabilities, to have access to such gardens. In addition, the PRC is sharing standards for green markets to accept benefits from food aid programs like Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The PRC is also providing model language for creating a "healthy food store use" to reward traditional food outlets that dedicate a specific portion of their shelf space to healthy food items.

The placement of fast-food restaurants and the convenience of drive-through service is another health-related zoning issue. The PRC is educating city planners about other governments that have required new fast-food outlets be at least 1,500 feet from public parks and youth-oriented buildings, such as community centers, child care centers, public libraries and K-12 schools. Additionally, the PRC is providing model language that bans new permits for drive-through service at fast-food restaurants.

The City Planning Commission is encouraging residents to send in their comments regarding the draft zoning law by Nov. 1 so they can be incorporated into the updated CZO draft set to be release after Mardis Gras 2012. For information about the comprehensive zoning ordinance and to submit a written comment, visit nolamasterplan.org.

State Health Department vows reforms for hospital food
Louisiana government-run hospitals will become beacons of health by serving more nutritious foods, the state's leading health official said at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center's 4th Annual Childhood Obesity and Public Health Conference on Sept. 14 in Baton Rouge.

Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein announced his department's healthy foods environment initiative to roughly 500 conference attendees. The state is setting up a new food-service contract to revamp the nutritional content of foods served at all of its hospitals, nursing homes, behavioral health facilities, and other properties. Other public health leaders, like Pennington and state nutritionist Pam Romero, helped draft the department's food service request for proposals, which is sent to food companies for them to bid on.

"We need to lead by example," Greenstein said. "It's going to be the strongest (request for proposal) for state government in the country when it comes out."

The state is also preparing to launch Living Well Louisiana wellness guidelines and resources, such as videos and online progress tracking tools, for schools, businesses and government offices. On Nov. 15, Greenstein said, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will release its statewide vision for addressing the obesity epidemic, in conjunction with the release of Pennington's 2011 Louisiana Report Card on Physical Activity and Health for Children and Youth.

"We need to come together with one vision, one state strategic plan," Greenstein said.

Topics:   obesity , community health , policy , built environment , food environment

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