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Mayorís Healthy Hometown Movement/Louisville Youth Advocates

By Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer
January 20, 2014

In the earlier part of the decade, three out of five Louisville adults were overweight or obese and at increased risk for chronic diseases associated with obesity. In addition, childhood obesity was steadily on the rise. To reverse these trends, in early 2004 the Louisville Department of Public Health and Wellness (LMPHW), with the support of city leadership, convened a group of stakeholders to develop a response. Over the course of several months the stakeholder group set specific physical activity, nutrition and wellness goals, and identified environmental, systemic and policy changes necessary to transform Louisville into a model healthy community. The Mayorís Healthy Hometown Movement (MHHM) was launched that September to achieve these goals. Under the leadership of Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer (a staunch program champion), the MHHM has evolved into an innovative, multifaceted program that not only addresses childhood obesity, but creates job opportunities and grooms the next generation of leaders in the process.

The mission of MHHM is to make Louisville one of the healthiest cities in America by making a healthy and active lifestyle an easy choice to make for all Louisvillians. To that end, MHHM works not only on inspiring individual change, but also on systemic and environmental change as well. Since its launch in 2004 the MHHM has been at the core of the implementation of many citywide initiatives, including:

  • The placement of bike racks on every Transit Authority bus in Louisville;
  • Nearly $500,000 in mini-grants over the past nine years to more than 100 faith-based and community groups, for initiatives to increase physical activity and healthy eating in Louisville neighborhoods;
  • The Healthy-In-A-Hurry Corner Store initiative, a partnership between LMPHW and the YMCA of Greater Louisville to provide the infrastructure and expertise for corner stores in low-income neighborhoods to carry fresh fruits and vegetables; and
  • The Healthy Hometown Restaurant Menu Labeling Initiative, a program to encourage restaurants to voluntarily post nutritional and caloric information on the foods they serve.
A core tenet of MHHM is that choosing healthier lifestyle options isnít just a matter of willpower but of empowerment. For example, research has shown that when restaurant patrons are aware of the nutritional content of foods, they tend to choose meals with fewer calories. To help restaurants implement the menu labeling program, MHHM has provided registered dietitians to analyze menu items, local chefs to reformulate recipes to make them healthier, and new menu boards for participating restaurants.

This practice of change through empowerment also drove MHHM to convene the Louisville Youth Advocates (LYA), a group of young people ages 14 to 18 working toward policy change, increased access to healthy food, exercise opportunities, and improved safety in urban Louisville neighborhoods. The MHHM is committed not simply to advocating on behalf of young people, but to equipping young people with the tools to effectively advocate for the changes they deem important.

Early on, with the guidance of adult mentors, LYA youth determined that its top priority was identifying community needs Ė so LYA youth surveyed residents in key low income Louisville neighborhoods to learn more about their needs and concerns. A top priority identified by community residents was increased access to fresh produce. These neighborhoods, like many lower income communities across the country, were food deserts, usually with more fast food restaurants than healthy food retailers. MHHM responded by teaching LYA youth to grow fresh produce and to sell it to the Healthy-In-A-Hurry corner stores in these neighborhoods, effectively transforming these young people into entrepreneurs as well as advocates.

The $150,000 grant that MHHM received as first place winner (large city) of 2012 Childhood Obesity Prevention Awards has already been put to work. An urban agriculture curriculum, Youth Harvest Louisville, has been developed and implemented for youth aged 14-18. Also, the program has expanded to include youth from across the greater Louisville region and is now known as the Metro Youth Advocates (MYA).

As the initiative has grown, other partners have enabled MHHM to broaden its scope by also developing a plan for sustaining existing school and community gardens, and to create new gardens on vacant city properties. These initiatives fit perfectly within Mayor Fischerís larger comprehensive platform to advocate for healthy lifestyle choices, youth empowerment and leadership development, new business development and job creation, and developing new community green spaces. Ultimately, MHHM has become far more than a public health project. It is an economic engine, an environmental sustainability initiative, a business incubator and a leadership academy to boot.