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Policymakers Put Money Toward Initiatives That Should Encourage Healthy Habits




City leaders and policy makers around the nation are getting behind measures meant to encourage healthier habits.

In New York City, millions have been earmarked to beef up physical education in public schools; In Massachusetts, policy makers have funded improvements to encourage an active transportation lifestyle; and Los Angeles County leaders have approved a ballot measure that could mean billions in transportation spending, including money for walking and biking.

In Stockton, California, water and milk will be the default beverages for restaurant kids’ meals, while in San Francisco, the city will improve the nutritional quality of what is sold in city- and county-owned vending machines. In Louisiana, money has been allocated to get fresh food into areas that lack them. 

The funding goes toward initiatives that can create healthier environments for children and adults with infrastructure for physical activity and healthier food choices to eat. 

New York City’s City Council voted in June to spend $9 million in fiscal year 2017 for PE in schools. Last year, City Comptroller Scott Stringer reported that 506 public schools in New York City, or nearly one-third, lacked a full-time certified physical education teacher and 28 percent didn't have a dedicated physical fitness space. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that the funding will be dedicated to the hiring of certified PE teachers for elementary schools, along with training and resources to help ensure every school is in compliance with state law. The budget outlined proposed spending of $44 million in fiscal year 2018 and a goal of expanding to $100 million by fiscal year 2020. 

Parent Mireya Solis said she is encouraged the budget includes money for better PE in schools. 

“My son, Samuel, goes to P.S. 148, where he only has gym once a week,” she stated. “The city’s investment in PE promises our children healthier lives.” 

Many Americans who want to be physically active in their neighborhoods live in areas where streets lack sidewalks, bike lanes and crosswalks. So many locales are pursuing complete-street policies. 

In Massachusetts, the Department of Transportation Board approved spending $50 million over the next five years on a capital investment plan that includes just such a program. The plan includes funding, training, and technical assistance to local jurisdictions working to implement complete-streets policies and projects. Money will also go for walking and biking projects. 

Out west in Los Angeles County, where traffic headaches are notorious, transportation leaders have sent voters a ballot proposal that could mean billions for walking and biking infrastructure. The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority in late June approved language for the November election that includes approximately $4 billion in funding (2016 dollars) for “active transportation projects.” It is part of a proposed 40-year, $120-billion funding plan that includes doubling the size of the region’s mass transit system, improving highways and giving cities money to spend on sidewalk improvements. If approved by voters, funds would come from a ½ cent sales tax.

In San Francisco, the city passed an ordinance that improves the nutritional quality of foods and beverages in vending machines on city and county-owned properties. That means visitors and employees won’t find candy (only sugar-free mints and gum), chips that aren’t baked and full-calorie soda in vending machines on city- and county-owned property, including the airport.  

City meetings and city-sponsored events also must try to feature healthier options, according to the ordinance. 

“As a parent of three young kids, I want to make sure our city is doing everything possible to encourage healthy choices,” Supervisor Mark Farrell, who introduced the legislation, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s not only better for our children, it saves the city valuable money in public health resources.” 

In Stockton, California, water and milk will be the default beverages in kids’ meal in restaurants. That comes after the City Council last month unanimously approved an ordinance regarding sugar-sweetened beverages designed “to combat the childhood obesity epidemic by limiting the beverages offered in meals targeted to children and youth to healthy choices.” 

“Instead of getting an unwanted soda without asking for one – and being forced to negotiate with their child – parents will be given the opportunity to start the meal off right with a healthy beverage,” Vice Mayor Christina Fugazi in a news release. “Most parents will stick with the healthier option, protecting their children from the long-term chronic problems associated with liquid candy, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.” 

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a budget bill that includes $1 million to implement the Healthy Food Retail Act. The act was passed seven years ago to help grocers and farmers’ markets expand into fresh food-needy areas, but until now, the state has never provided funding for the law. 

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