To reduce obesity and increase healthy eating and exercise in the City of Houston, Mayor Annise Parker launched Healthy Houston, a new initiative to promote programs, policies and actions designed to reduce food deserts, promote the availability of locally-grown foods, encourage the development of sustainable food systems and promote recreational opportunities. To lead the initiative, the Mayor has created a Healthy Houston Task Force. They will work to recommend and implement specific actions to reduce the incidence of obesity and its health and economic impacts in the City of Houston, including:
- Encouraging urban agriculture in community, school, backyard and rooftop gardens and, where feasible, on City property
- Improving access to healthy, affordable and locally produced food for all neighborhoods
- Supporting education regarding the physical and mental health risks of obesity and the benefits of sustainable agriculture, using locally produced food, consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, infant breastfeeding, providing healthy meals in our schools, physical activity and exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight
- Enabling programs that increase physical activity and exercise in schools, at work, and in communities, including those that provide safe playgrounds and parks, pedestrian-friendly walkways, bicycle paths and other recreational opportunities
In 2010, it was reported that 28% of fourth graders, 17% of adolescents age 15-18 and 29% of adults in Houston/Harris County were obese. These factors result in a decreased quality of life, increased medical expenses and a shortened life span.
The Houston Area Survey, conducted by Stephen Klineberg and associates at Rice University, demonstrates an increasing concern on the part of the population regarding the availability of affordable food and a high level of interest in the availability of locally-grown food. The Food Trust recently conducted a study showing that Houston, among the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, has fewer supermarkets per capita than most of the nation’s large metropolitan areas.
In response, the Healthy Houston Task Force will address food deserts, or a lack of affordable, healthy food in various areas of the city. They will continue and expand upon existing efforts, including the Community Transformations Initiative, launch of the City Hall Farmers Market and farmers markets at the City’s multi-service centers; new vegetable container gardens downtown and throughout the City; a Grocery Access Task Force and working with grocers on providing economic tools and incentives to help spur more supermarket and grocery development in areas where they are needed; the launch of Bike Share in Houston and the expansion of bike lanes and trails.
The Mayor’s Office, working with the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Health and Environment, partnered with many city departments and organizations to create the Healthy Houston Initiative, including the City of Houston Health and Human Services Department, Planning Department, Parks and Recreation Department, Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, State Senator Rodney Ellis’ office, State Representatives Borris Miles’ and Carol Alvarado’s offices, Councilmember Stephen Costello’s office, HISD, UT School of Public Health, University of Houston, METRO, Harris County Hospital District Foundation, Children at Risk, Can Do Houston, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Recipe for Success, Urban Harvest, Mental Health America of Greater Houston, Houston Area Dietetic Association, American Heart Association, Neighborhood Centers Inc., Fiesta Mart, Inc., Cigna South Texas/Louisiana and Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston.
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