Northern Berkshire initiative targets obesity

Monday November 19, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Curbing obesity, and the broad range of associated health risks, has become a single-minded priority in Northern Berkshire County.

Amanda Chilson was hired at the beginning of the year as a project coordinator for an obesity-prevention initiative managed by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, which strives to improve the quality of life for Northern Berkshire residents.

Chilson has been criss-crossing the northern half of the county advocating a multi-pronged approach with community partners -- some already have obesity initiatives -- with the intent of curbing obesity and promoting healthy living as part of a five-year initiative in the towns of Adams, North Adams and Clarksburg.

Where to call
NBCC is searching for community partners, parents and others who are interested in participating in the Mass in Motion campaign. For more information, call (413) 663-7588.

The initiative called the "Mass in Motion" campaign kicked-off on Friday, with 150 people coming out to listen to guest speaker Mark Fenton, a national public health consultant, at the Church Street Center on the MCLA campus. Merrigan was pleasantly surprised to see private business, hospital workers, public officials, and many other community stakeholders present and supportive of the campaign.

"It was really exciting and encouraging how many people are excited about this," said Kate Merrigan, who supervises Chilson.

Chilson could not be reached for comment, but Merrigan said that one of the goals of the project is to "make the healthy choice the easy choice."

Half of Massachusetts was overweight or obese in 2007, according to a 2009 report commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. However, Western Massachu setts has an even higher obesity rate, 60.3 percent, than statewide statistics -- and obesity prevalence has more than doubled since 1997, according to Merrigan.

The NBCC campaign effort is backed with funding from the state Department of Public Health.

Merrigan said a healthier Northern Berkshire County in the short-term would include better walkways to schools and promote community partnerships. The manager of the Walmart in North Adams expressed support for finding a way to get an extensive bicycle trail in Lanesborough to reach North Adams. The trail currently ends in Adams.

The emphasis is on giving people the option to live healthy, Merrigan said.

"It's a great recreational trail, but (the speaker) said that we should connect what we want to use with where we want to go," Merrigan said.

Amanda Letoile, trails and outreach coordinator for Berkshire Natural Resource Council, said Chilson has been great at connecting people with similar goals.

The road outside of Clarks burg is dilapidated and unsafe, so Letoile has advocated for an alternative trail to be made.

Chilson put Letoile in touch with the Clarksburg principal.

"We have so much we can build on," said Letoile, who said she would like to see a "walking resource kiosk" that would highlight safe walking trails.

According to the 2009 state-commissioned health report, obese adults are more than three times as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes or high blood pressure.

On average, men and women who were obese at age 40 lived 5.8 and 7.1 fewer years than their peers.

Curbing obesity will be a challenge, but the early response has been positive, Merrigan said.

"We have this fantasy what some of these stores will be down the road," she said.


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