In two years, Pima County residents will be slimmer and healthier.
That's the goal of county officials who received $15.7 million in federal funds to help curb and prevent obesity.
The money will go to eight local teams working to curb and prevent obesity through health and wellness education through schools, workplaces, faith-based groups and neighborhoods. It also will hire 75 full-time and part-time work-site wellness trainers, educators, data collectors and farmers-market-development employees.
The local funds are part of $373 million awarded to 44 communities nationwide from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic stimulus package. Pima County was the only Arizona recipient.
Obesity creates significant health costs because it boosts the risk for chronic health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says.
More than one-quarter of Arizona adults are considered obese, which means they have a body mass index of 30 or more. Arizona ranks 29th in the country for adult obesity and 15th in the nation for childhood obesity, says this year's "F as in Fat" report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health.
Nearly 18 percent of Arizona children ages 10 to 17 are obese, the report says. The data also say fewer than one-third of Arizona kids ages 6 through 17 participate in vigorous daily physical activity.
The federal money will fund several local programs. Among them:
• A communitywide campaign to get every Pima County student doing 60 minutes of physical activity per day. That might include reinstating recess or adding after-school programs.
• Healthier food choices in school cafeterias and vending machines.
• A voluntary "healthy" designation for local restaurants that show they meet a set of criteria such as smaller portion size and healthy menu options.
• Workplace wellness programs including forums, work-site training sessions and incentives such as pedometers, stretch bands and healthful-recipe cookbooks.
• An obesity prevention tool kit for churches, hospitals, doctors and community agencies, including "train-the-trainer" sessions on health coaching.
• More locally grown food at affordable prices. The Tucson Community Food Bank already operates three farmers markets and plans to add a fourth, at El Pueblo Neighborhood Center on Tucson's south side on Saturdays beginning in late October. Other plans include a mobile farmers market and an expanded gardening cooperative.
• Shadier bus stops, because having to sit in the sun discourages people from using mass transit.
• An analysis of how Southern Arizona's buildings, roads and parks affect our health. One plan calls for a team of University of Arizona students to map "food deserts" - areas where people don't have access to healthy food nearby - and the densities of local fast-food outlets.
• A survey of how Pima County fares when it comes to overweight, obese and underactive teens.
The grant money demands quick changes, but those involved are confident that programs it funds will spur enough energy and excitement about a healthier Tucson to make a difference over the long term.
"Two years is not a long period of time, and policy changes take awhile, but policy drives behavior," said Merrill Eisenberg, an assistant professor in the UA's College of Public Health. "I'd love to see us get some policies in place so we make a better use of the resources we have and plan our community in a better way in terms of the next generation."
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at 573-4134 or email@example.com