First lady’s initiative coming to Blair County

HOLLIDAYSBURG – A national program introduced by first lady Michelle Obama to address childhood obesity and encourage physical activity is developing within Blair County.

Representatives for the Healthy Blair County Coalition and the Healthy Lifestyle Work Group asked commissioners Tuesday to endorse Let’s Move Blair County, which mirrors the national program.

The organization’s representatives also announced the June 21 launch of the local effort, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with information and children’s activities at five locations: Mansion Park in Altoona, Tiger Stadium in Hollidaysburg, the Northern Blair Recreation Center between Bellwood and Tyrone, the Through Inc. headquarters in the former East Freedom Elementary School and along High Street in Williamsburg.

Richard Bishop, a member of the Healthy Lifestyle Work Group and director of the Northern Blair County Recreation Center, said the effort is designed to bring about change over time.

“This is going to be a long-term effort,” Bishop said. “It’s not one-shot and we’re done.”

Coleen Heim, director of the Healthy Blair County Coalition, headquartered at the United Way, told commissioners that she is pleased with the support so far for Let’s Move Blair County. Many agencies, she said, are already involved in their own initiatives to help children make wise choices regarding food and activity.

The question being pursued now, Heim said, is: “Can we collectively work together to make Blair County healthier?”

Blair County, in the last survey and ranking of healthy outcomes (defined as how long people live and how healthy they feel), was 51st out of 67 counties, an improvement from its previous ranking of 56th.

To continue improving, Bishop told commissioners: “It will take education and a well-organized effort to which all of us will need to be involved.”

Commissioners Chairman Terry Tomassetti asked Heim and Bishop about the county’s commitment and responsibilities if it endorses the program. Bishop suggested commissioners review the program’s website, which encourages local municipal leaders or a designated agency to sign up and be recognized as a participant in the national program.

Such recognition can be beneficial when a new business considers locating here, county Human Services Director James Hudack said.

“I’m fine with the concept,” Commissioner Diane Meling said. “But when there’s an application form we have to sign, I want to make sure I thoroughly understand what’s involved.”

The National League of Cities is the lead collaborating partner on the initiative. It is working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Association of Counties and other nonprofit organizations.