Report Calls For Public Campaign To Improve Nutrition In Hartford
Connecticut Forum Report Cites Childhood Obesity, Food Security
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
July 18, 2013
HARTFORD — A new report on nutrition in the city recommends that Hartford leaders, city schools, community organizations, businesses and philanthropists collaborate on a public campaign to reduce childhood obesity over the next five years.
"How Hartford Is Eating," released Thursday by the nonprofit Connecticut Forum, compiled research on the city's high childhood obesity rate and the problem of food insecurity, or families' limited access to healthy food. The author also interviewed local leaders in the areas of nutrition and food policy.
A steering committee is expected to convene within the next few weeks to begin the groundwork for a high-profile campaign, said Richard Sugarman, the Forum's founding president.
The group commissioned the research after its "Our Fragile Earth" forum at the Bushnell last year raised the topic of food security, Sugarman said. Tim Cole, a consultant and the report's author, said he learned "there are a whole slew of organizations working on these issues."
What Hartford needs now is a "collective impact" approach that coordinates efforts more extensively, Cole said. "Ultimately, the bottom line is ... we need to scale up."
Among the organizations already involved in nutrition outreach are Foodshare, Hispanic Health Council, Hartford Childhood Wellness Alliance, UConn, End Hunger Connecticut! and Hartford Food System, a nonprofit that has played a lead role in the Hartford Advisory Commission on Food Policy.
That city panel has made a series of recommendations this year that the report endorses, including planting more gardens at city schools, providing tax incentives to businesses that produce or sell healthy food in Hartford, and ensuring that more eligible students in the school system take advantage of federal child nutrition programs, such as school breakfast.
Mayor Pedro Segarra said he grew up hungry as a child — so hungry that "you really start to question whether your family loves you."
Speaking at the Connecticut Forum's press conference at the Billings Forge Farmers' Market, Segarra added that he is open to examining city policies and what could be changed to improve nutrition citywide.
"If we move together, we could move quicker," Segarra said.
Ann Ferris, director of the UConn Center for Public Health and Health Policy, said she wants to be part of the steering committee. Last November, Ferris and city officials released a study showing that more than one-third of Hartford preschoolers are overweight or obese, far exceeding guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to national standards, only 5 percent of preschoolers are expected to be obese, with 10 percent classified as overweight. Experts have linked the health effects of obesity, which include type 2 diabetes and hypertension, to shorter life expectancy and rising health care costs.
Ferris said she is working with city employees on creating a task force that will outline "concrete" actions for improving nutrition for Hartford children ages 3 to 8.
Segarra "wants recommendations that he as a mayor and the department heads can say, 'This is what we can change,'" Ferris said Thursday.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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