By COSHANDRA DILLARD
Two years after community partners established the Fit City Challenge, organizers say they are ready to take its message further. Coalition members Thursday announced two new projects that will involve Tyler and residents of surrounding areas in a weight-loss challenge and an initiative that promotes healthy choices in children.
"We want to take the Fit City Challenge to the next level and do something that's going to challenge our community. Really, we want to expand it beyond our community," Dave Berry, Tyler Morning Telegraph editor, said. "We really want something that's going to get people fired up and engaged."
Lighten Up East Texas will have participants in weight-loss teams and learning to adapt to a healthier lifestyle.
"We've built this around what they've done in Oklahoma City," Berry said. "They lost 1 million pounds. The mayor challenged the community to step up and be healthier."
Individuals will sign up and track their weight loss on a website to be developed just for the challenge. The contest will begin in the fall and culminate in June 2013, with an event where participants are entered into drawings for significant gifts.
"We really think it's time to pump it up and really get something with some hard, measurables in it," said Susan Guthrie, managing director of external relations for the City of Tyler. "The best thing we could think about was a weight-loss challenge."
The Fit City 5210 campaign is based on a program pediatricians use in their practices, developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It emphasizes a daily five servings of fruits and vegetables, two hours or less of screen time, at least one hour of physical activity and zero sweetened beverages. The program is less of a weight-loss challenge but more of a healthy-living initiative.
Tyler ISD's TV/video operations coordinator, Angela Jenkins, said a committee will be charged with providing support and materials to principals, teachers, coaches, students, nurses and parents in an effort to encourage healthy choices.
"Those are great initiatives and information that we could stress with our children," Ms. Jenkins said. "We are going to look at how we can identify how the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) could possibly meet some of these 5210 messages."
Stephanie Taylor, director of outreach and assistance at Northeast Texas Public Health District, outlined goals of programs developed for Smith, Wood and Van Zandt counties, thanks to a Transforming Texas grant they recently received. The underlying problem of most health issues in these target areas is obesity.
The health district hopes to develop initiatives that include tobacco-free living in workplaces; a program called Healthy Eating, Active Living; working with schools to open playground afterhours for environmental changes; and education on management of chronic illnesses. Mrs. Taylor also said the district is working with the Cherokee County Health Department and Lamar and Hopkins counties on projects.
"We're seeing a lot of growth and we want it to be an East Texas-type initiative because obesity is not unique to Tyler and Smith County," she said.
Coalition members described Fit City Challenge as a "contagiousness" with a ripple effect. However, they all agree there is so much more to do.
"This is about two years since the time that we launched this thing," Nelson Clyde,
Tyler Morning Telegraph
publisher, said. "It's clear to me that we've really only scratched the tip of the surface. ... There is so much we can do to be a model city for places around the country."
Clyde lauded efforts made by the wellness committee at his company, which has resulted in several employees' weight loss, great feats and lifestyle changes.
"This journey for our company has been multifaceted," he said. "My personal journey has been very rewarding and it's also been very public, but it certainly motivated me to kick my game up a lot."
Clyde lost about 39 pounds and said he no longer takes blood pressure medication. He invited coalition members to embrace the challenge in their homes and workplaces.
To follow the Fit City Challenge and learn more details about upcoming initiatives as they develop, visit www.fitcitytyler.com and www.facebook.com/fitcitychallenge.