Allegheny County launches program aimed at reducing obesity

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Pittsburgh seems healthier than Buffalo, N.Y., according to Hunter McCarthy, an Empire State native who arrived in town in August and joined the Downtown YMCA in September.

But that doesn't mean Allegheny County residents can't use some help in getting in shape, said Ms. McCarthy, who was stepping onto a workout machine Tuesday afternoon as Allegheny County officials gathered at the Downtown Y to launch a new wellness and fitness program aimed at reducing high local levels of adult and childhood obesity.

The program, called "Live Well Allegheny," will be administered by the Allegheny County Health Department and promote healthy lifestyles, nutrition and physical activity through partnerships with existing health and wellness organizations.

County launches new wellness campaign

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and others talk about the launch of a comprehensive campaign promoting wellness. The campaign is called Live Well Allegheny. (Video by Nate Guidry; 1/21/2014)

"Yes, it's a good idea," said Ms. McCarthy, an Art Institute of Pittsburgh student who works out five or six days a week. "Everyone should work out and stay healthy. It makes for a better life."

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said at the news conference that the county recognizes that obesity is a problem and wants to do what it can to "stimulate our community to make better decisions for the health and well-being of all of our residents."

Karen Hacker, county Health Department director, said the new program, which has no dedicated funding, will serve as an umbrella under which existing health programs and activities will be coordinated, promoted, targeted and expanded.

"As the Health Department director, my focus and interest is obviously going to be on our residents' physical health, so this campaign will speak directly to the need for more physical activity, eating right and being proactive in managing your health," Dr. Hacker said.

But because wellness includes things like personal and community safety, sustainability, quality of life, health education and nutrition, she said the program will also focus on coordination of those types of programs that are already offered.

A number of wellness program partners have already been recruited, including the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, which announced it will offer a free, one-week trial pass to individuals in 2014.

The pass, which must be shown to gain admittance to the Y's "wellness centers," will be available online for downloading later this week.

"We're a nonprofit that is very interested in the wellness of our communities," said Gretchen North, YMCA associate vice president for healthy living.

"We're inviting county residents to explore their personal wellness by visiting on a one-week trial pass that will provide them access to any of our 14 wellness centers."

The need to step up to the stair-stepper or treadmill is clear. According to the 2009-10 Allegheny County Health Survey, 62 percent of adults were overweight or obese, including 68 percent of men and 57 percent of women, and 11 percent of the population did not participate in moderate or vigorous physical activity in a normal week.

Statistics from the United Health Foundation show Pennsylvania's health ranking fell from 26th to 29th last year, and the rate of obesity statewide rose from 28.6 to 29 percent, or about 3 million adults.

Chris Kenny, an Oakland resident who was about to sit down at a weight-lifting machine, said the county program should be well-received.

"It's a problem for sure," he said, "and anything that gets people more active is a good thing."

Those organizations and individuals interested in joining the program can contact the Health Department by phone at 412-687-2243, email livewell@achd.net or visit the campaign's website at LiveWellAllegheny.com.


Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. First Published January 21, 2014 3:03 PM

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