Written for the Web by CBS4 Special Projects Producer Libby Smith

A new report from the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council shows local governments how to fight childhood obesity. Researchers say that local government plays a crucial role in promoting healthy communities.

Recommendations in the report include the following:

— Zoning restrictions on fast-food restaurants near schools and playgrounds
— Taxes on high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks
— Making sure sidewalks, bike paths and playgrounds are available and safe

In Denver’s Westwood neighborhood, a new program rewards elementary school students for walking to school.

“The goal of the program is to increase the number of kids to walk to school, to get the exercise they need to be healthy,” said Rachel Cleaves, LiveWell Westwood Community Coordinator.

LiveWell Westwood is part of the larger LiveWell Colorado non-profit organization committed to reducing obesity in Colorado. They sponsor the program at Monroe Elementary School called “Mustangs on the Move.” Each student can sign up to get a tag they hang on their backpacks. When they walk under a solar-powered computer installed in the playground, they’re automatically counted for walking to school and they’re eligible for prizes.

“The technology helps because it’s a lot to keep track of 600 children, so everyday this computer is doing the job of 10 volunteers allowing us to see which kids walked,” Cleaves told CBS4.

The technology comes care of Freiker, a program based out of Boulder. Freiker stands for “Frequent Biker” and they developed the computer and hang tags that makes keep track of 600 young walkers manageable.

“Mustangs on the Move” started on Monday and students were lined up to get counted for walking to school.

“I walk every day to school,” said Miyra Padilla,10, a 5th grader at Monroe Elementary School. “I didn’t need to walk for the prizes because we need to walk to get energy and to get some exercise.”

That’s an important lesson in a neighborhood where the majority of students live within a half-mile of school, but don’t walk. Westwood has no grocery store and lots of fast food restaurants. There is no recreation center and few parks. It’s exactly where students and families need some motivation to take the steps toward healthy living.

“We’re hoping this program allows kids to see that walking to school is a lot of fun. It’s a great convenient way to get to school and it helps them stay healthy,” Cleaves added.


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