COLUMBIA — Public health efforts in Columbia to combat childhood obesity are receiving a $400,000 boost.
The grant will focus on making routine physical activity and health foods easily available to children. It is part of a $44 million initiative financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to develop community-based solutions to childhood obesity.
Mayor Darwin Hindman announced the grant this morning at the YouZeum, where students from Grant and Lee elementary schools had gathered by 10 a.m.
The students walked from their schools to the interactive health center on Cherry Street in downtown Columbia for breakfasts delivered by bicycle from the Main Squeeze restaurant that included blueberry bars, blueberry smoothies and apple slices — all made from locally-grown produce.
Ian Thomas of PedNet, the federally financed organization promoting nonmotorized transportation in Columbia, will direct the project. Other partners in the grant include the city, Columbia Public Schools and MU.
Columbia is one of nine initial communities labeled as "leading sites" to receive grants, with approximately 60 additional communities in line to receive grants within the next year. The goal is to have Columbia serve as a mentor and model for future communities attempting to combat obesity.
"One possibility is these nine communities will be assigned five or six future communities to share experiences and strategies with to try to maximize the project," Thomas said. "We don't want other communities working on a strategy that is unsuccessful."
Thomas said Columbia was chosen because of the city's work in past projects such as Active Living by Design and Healthy Eating by Design. These projects developed programs such as the Walking School Bus, where trained volunteers help students walk to school on a daily basis.