City receives grant to improve health

By Julia Reading

City of Boston has received $12.5 million in federal grants to decrease smoking and reduce obesity in Boston said Mayor Thomas Menino on March 19.

In addition to improving public health, this initiative will fund 50 jobs in Boston and provide summer employment for city youths over a two-year period, said Menino in a press release.

“We applied for [the grant] because we do a lot of work at the public health agency in Boston to combat obesity and to reduce tobacco use in the city,” said Ann Scales, spokesperson for the Boston Public Health Commission.

The grant will be used to decrease sugar and tobacco consumption through advertising and policy change, the press release said. The funding was provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The initiative is aimed at decreasing the disadvantages of those living in low-income neighborhoods. It targets the gap in obesity rates among African Americans, Caucasians and Latinos.

Scales said part of the problem is related to income and access to healthy foods.

“If you look around, there aren’t exactly country clubs in Roxbury … A lot of people with money can afford a gym membership, [but] if you’re living from paycheck to paycheck you often can’t afford that membership. Minorities are more likely to be poor and that is just a function of how this country works,” Ann Scales said.

Even before the grant, Menino’s office has been taking steps to decrease obesity and smoking rates in Boston.

“We have been instrumental in starting walking groups in the city as a way to reduce obesity and we have found chefs at Boston public schools to create nutritional meals,” Scales said.

“There is some evidence that we have made strides particularly around reducing the allure of tobacco … the city of Boston was one of the first cities in the country to restrict tobacco use in the work place and then at restaurants,” Scales said.

A decrease in health problems attributed to smoking has been suggested by recent studies conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Erin Pearlman, a freshman communication studies major, thinks that obesity is a problem at Northeastern, and she believes that Northeastern does not provide enough healthy food options.

“The reason why there are overweight people is because there are no healthy food options here,” Pearlman said. “If you think about it, its all starch — pasta, burgers, bread, unlimited soda, and cookies that are made fresh every 30 minutes.”

Fazel, a third year pharmacy major, said it will be difficult to reduce smoking in Boston.

“I think banning smoking on campus would be the only way to decrease smoking,” Fazel said. “I know it probably won’t happen, but the most I could ask for is if there were designated areas on campus where people would go to smoke.”

The Mayor’s Office has set a goal of reducing obesity in Boston by 30 percent for children and 20 percent for adults in the next five years.

“The government has some confidence that we can produce results in some way,” Scales said.

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