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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Menino challenges Boston: Shed 1 million pounds

BRIAN FEULNER FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Gladys Grullon led a group of Jamaica Plain Tree of Life women during a walk last week as part of the Boston Moves for Health campaign.

The idea first came to Mayor Thomas M. Menino during Thanksgiving, while he was giving out turkeys to families in need. A woman came in with her son, a youngster seriously overweight.

“What chance does this kid have?’’ Menino remembers thinking. “He is only 12 years old and is already so overweight.’’

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From that encounter, Menino’s million-pound challenge was born. The citywide campaign, dubbed Boston Moves for Health, is scheduled to be launched Monday by the Boston Public Health Commission and will encourage Bostonians to shed a collective 1 million pounds over the next year. The call to action includes a challenge for residents to walk 10 million miles altogether during the yearlong campaign. (Note to runners: Your mileage counts toward that goal, too.)

Residents will be able to log onto a website (bostonmovesforhealth.org) and pick goals - losing weight, becoming more active, eating better - and track their progress.

The website is a cornucopia of nutrition tips, listings of activities, classes, and gyms searchable by neighborhood - looking for a yoga class in Dorchester? - and includes options to post maps of favorite walking and running routes.

Once registered, participants will receive periodic e-mail reminders and alerts with suggested workout routines customized to meet their goals and interests, organizers said.

“We are talking about enormous opportunities for people to get engaged at either low cost or no cost,’’ said Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.

Ferrer said companies are offering free workout sessions on Boston Common and free gym memberships, but details are being finalized. She said the city will post the latest information about free events and gym memberships on the new website, and is also planning promotions with restaurants and businesses to publicize the campaign.

Underlying the mission, health officials say, is an alarming figure: Roughly 60 percent of Boston’s residents are overweight. The campaign aims to significantly shrink that number.

“Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of students in Boston public schools are either obese or overweight,’’ Ferrer said. “That’s a frightening statistic for me.’’

Starting Tuesday, community health centers in the city will offer free pedometers to residents to help them track their mileage. The campaign is also sponsoring about 22 neighborhood walking clubs, with minigrants of a few hundred dollars each to pay for nutritious snacks, T-shirts, and a small stipend for club leaders.

Among the campaign’s other highlights: community cooking and nutrition workshops, biking events in neighborhoods, and training for licensed day-care operators on preparing healthy snacks and planning physical activities for kids.

Ferrer said the yearlong campaign will cost about $1 million, with about one-fourth of that coming from the city’s purse, and the rest from corporate sponsors, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and Partners HealthCare.

Boston is not the first city to set a million-pound goal. Oklahoma City leaders announced earlier this year that more than 47,000 residents collectively hit the mark, though the effort took four years.

Ferrer said Boston’s campaign will probably last until at least next summer, but leaders are hoping to be able to provide a detailed report about residents’ progress by January.

“We like to say we’re building a movement here and not just a one-year campaign,’’ she said.

She is also vowing to do her part toward that 1-million mark.

“I live right by Franklin Park, one of the most beautiful places in the city,’’ Ferrer said. “My personal goal is to get 5 to 7 miles a week in at the park and drag my husband.’’

And the mayor?

“My goal is to do some personal exercise four days a week,’’ Menino said.

Then he added: “I want to see youngsters standing at a bus stop not eating Doritos. I want them eating apples.’’

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.
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