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Portland, schools get $1.8M to fight obesity

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Portland, schools get $1.8M to fight obesity

PORTLAND — The city will receive $1.8 million in federal grants over the next two years to combat obesity, Gov. John Baldacci announced last week.

The grant was awarded to Healthy Portland, a city program run in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Services.

It will be used to support Power Up Portland, a local initiative that will work with other community organizations to reduce obesity rates by increasing physical activity and improving nutrition.

According to John Ingraham, Healthy Portland project coordinator, nearly 58 percent of the adult population in Cumberland County is either obese or overweight.

Partner organizations include the city's Public Services Department, the city's Minority Health Program, Portland Trails, Winterkids, Let's Go! and the Portland School Department.

Initiatives include developing a comprehensive bike and pedestrian plan, mounting a public information campaign for new menu labeling, increasing exercise and nutrition at child-care centers, increasing trail use and adding bike lanes and bike racks.

City schools will receive $500,000 of the grant to pay for changes in the school lunch program, nutrition education and physical activity programs.

"This award will help us make a real difference in improving the nutrition and health of Portland's school children," Chanda Turner, school health coordinator, said in a press release.

The school district plans to use the funds to install salad bars in more cafeterias, provide nutritional information on school menus and increase the use of local foods. The district also plans to post nutritional information on its Web site. 

Also, classes will create short videos podcasts demonstrating exercises and dance routines, while teachers will integrate these videos into their daily schedules.

Maine, where the 30 percent obesity rate is the highest in New England, received a total of $4.28 million for obesity prevention as part of the federal stimulus package.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net.