Tackling Childhood Obesity

Marty MartinezOne of the things I’m most excited about in my position as Bay Area policy manager is how perfectly the work fits my interest in public health. As someone who spent almost a decade working in public health policy, the shift to transportation-related policy such as working on Complete Streets was indeed a change. But in another way it wasn’t a change at all.

Something I’m most passionate about, and one of the issues I see as the biggest threat to our future, is addressing the childhood obesity epidemic. It’s an issue I’ve been working on for years, and it’s something I’m continuing to work on.

A report from last November by the Center for Public Health Advocacy (CPHA) and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that while childhood obesity rates have stabilized or declined in some parts of California and the Bay Area, the rate continued to go up in most of the Bay Area’s counties. 

Napa, Contra Costa, Alameda and Sonoma counties all experienced increases in childhood obesity. San Mateo was the only county in the Bay Area to experience a drop (of 5.6 percent) in its childhood obesity rate, while the rates in San Francisco, Marin, Solano and Santa Clara stayed about the same. These numbers are disappointing and frustrating and show how much more work we need to do to secure a healthy future for our children. You can find more coverage of the study reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Since I came on board on this job in January I have been working nonstop advocating with our regional MPO, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to secure $20 million in continued funding for Safe Routes to School, as well as requiring Complete Streets policy resolutions throughout the Bay Area. The Bay Area’s MTC is, I believe, the only MPO to provide dedicated regional Safe Routes to School program dollars. Each of the Bay Area’s counties has Safe Routes to School programs operating, though their size and reach varies.

Ideally, we hope the regional money, combined with state and federal funds, can strengthen these programs, and result in countywide programs in each county that benefit all of the schools in the region, with both infrastructural improvements as well as educational and outreach programs to motive children to safely walk and bicycle to and from school. If we are successful in implementing these policies, the improvements in walkability and bikeability will make a significant difference in reducing the rate of childhood obesity in the Bay Area and improve the health of the entire region.