PORTLAND – For years, school and city officials have brainstormed ways to combat obesity among children and adults.

Their ideas have included creating bike lanes and preserving vegetables grown locally in the summer so they can be served in school cafeterias in the winter.

The obstacle has always been a lack of money. Now, that obstacle is gone.

The federal government will give Portland $1.8 million to reduce obesity rates. Half a million will be spent in schools, and the rest will be used to jump-start projects aimed at adults.

“This removes all the barriers of the things we’ve been dreaming about doing,” said Chanda Turner, the school district’s health coordinator. “This puts all those plans into motion.”

Officials have until the end of June to give the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention a plan for how they will spend the money.

The grant rules require that money be spent on projects that create new polices for increasing physical activity and improving nutrition. In addition, the city can spend the money on infrastructure improvements.

The money isn’t supposed to be spent to create programs that can’t support themselves after the grant runs out in two years.

The state applied for the funds in cooperation with Healthy Portland and the Communities Promoting Health Coalition, which serves the Sebago Lake region. The award allocates $1.2 million to the state and $1.3 million to the Lakes Region.

The Portland school system will receive $500,000 and the city of Portland will receive $1.3 million.

According to a telephone survey in which people report their weight and height, nearly 58 percent of the adult population in Cumberland County is obese or overweight, according to Joan Ingram, program coordinator for Healthy Portland. That is slightly lower than the state average of 62 percent.

The plans for the grant money include:

• Creating a bicycle lane, possibly on a section of Congress Street or Washington Avenue.

• Installing 80 bicycle racks around the city

• Hiring a nutritionist to analyze meals served at local restaurants so they can add nutritional information to menus.

• Running an education campaign to help consumers make sense of a new state law that will require chain restaurants to provide nutritional information. The new law takes effect next year.

• Creating labeling in all school cafeterias identifying healthy foods.

• Installing salad bars at all public schools.

• Encouraging children to walk to school.

• Adopting policies to increase physical activity and access to healthier foods at child care centers.

• Buying processing and refrigeration equipment for the school system’s central kitchen so cooks can preserve locally grown produce for use in school meals throughout the school year.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]