- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams yesterday announced a free family exercise and nutrition program to combat childhood obesity.

The program, called “We Can — Together,” is designed to help children ages 8 to 13 maintain healthy weights by learning to eat wisely and become more active, Mr. Williams said.

“Let’s face it. Americans are becoming heavier and heavier and heavier and heavier,” he said yesterday to about 30 students at the Hillcrest Recreation Center in Southeast.

Nearly 16 percent of American children, ages 6 to 19, are overweight, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The District’s obesity initiative comes as Maryland and Virginia lawmakers try to require public schools to measure students’ weight and report to parents and state agencies children who are obese or overweight.

Two pieces of legislation are making their way through the Maryland General Assembly that would require schools to measure students’ body mass index, a measurement often used to determine whether a person is overweight or, more seriously, obese. The results would be sent to parents in the form of “health report cards.”

A Virginia House bill, which also is pending, proposed similar requirements for state public schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Mr. Williams, flanked by Washington Wizards majority owner Irene Pollin and All-Star guard Gilbert Arenas, encouraged the students to sign up with their parents.

Ashley Taylor, a student who was at the center to do technical theater work, said she probably would join the program to “drop a few pounds.”

“Because I’m a cheerleader now, I want to be trim,” said the ninth-grader at Paul Public Charter School in Northwest, declining to give her weight.

Up to eight families of four can enroll in the free program at each of six recreation centers, said Kimberley Flowers, director of the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.

The program, which starts March 15, will provide three 12-week sessions, which will include personal health workshops, work with a personal trainer and weekly meetings with a nutritionist, Mrs. Flowers said.

The District becomes the 65th community to provide the “We Can” health program, which was developed by several institutes within the National Institutes of Health.

NIH started the program in June and now has 65 communities in 29 states, including one in Ontario, Canada, implementing the program. Montgomery County started its version of the “We Can” campaign in June.

The D.C. program is being financed by the Sister-to-Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation, a D.C. nonprofit founded by Mrs. Pollin.

“We are eager to make a difference in Washington, but we are hoping to take this program as far as we can reach,” Mrs. Pollin said at the press conference. She did not disclose the amount the program would cost.

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