'A Healthier Nation Is At Our Doorstep' by Joseph Curtatone

This article is more than 12 years old.

When Somerville residents step over their threshold at the start of the day, they look out upon a landscape designed for active living and healthy eating. They see wide sidewalks, brightly painted crosswalks, bike lanes and bike racks. As they travel through the day, they might find themselves on the Somerville Community Path, the bus, or T. Many residents will enjoy the city’s parks and playgrounds. They might stop to tend their plot at a community garden, or pick up fresh fruit and vegetables at the farmers’ market. Thanks to the city’s intentional design, residents of Somerville enjoy better health and quality of life.

As Congress embarks on national health reform, it is important to acknowledge the critical role community design plays in the health of the nation. Committees in both the House and Senate have wisely included language to fund community-based prevention and wellness initiatives, including those related to city planning, in proposed healthcare legislation. Congress and the Obama Administration should prioritize funds for community-based initiatives. These initiatives, such as Shape Up Somerville, play an important role in preventing and reducing obesity and improving community wellness.

Shape Up Somerville began in 2002, as a collaboration between Tufts University, the City of Somerville and community organizations to increase access to healthy foods and physical activity for first, second and third graders. Since that time, Shape Up Somerville has expanded its focus to include healthy community design.

The city was recently awarded a four year Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant that is intended to reverse the trend of childhood obesity by 2015 by enhancing Shape Up Somerville’s policy and environmental change efforts. As part of this grant, Somerville was chosen as one of nine leading sites to provide direction and mentorship to forty other communities across the country and to share the lessons we have learned in designing a healthier community.

All Americans deserve to live in a healthy community. Congress should be applauded for their holistic view of health and their incorporation of community-based initiatives in health care reform. A healthy investment in community-based prevention and wellness initiatives is just what the doctor ordered.

Joseph Curtatone is Mayor of the City of Somerville and serves on the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention Actions for Local Governments. He is speaking at the Center for Disease Control’s inaugural conference on obesity later this month.

This program aired on July 13, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.