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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

City finds shedding pounds tough

A group of Jamaica Plain Tree of Life women participatde in a community walk around Jamaica Pond April 19, 2012 as part of the Boston Moves for Health initiative.

Brian Feulner for the Boston Globe

A group of Jamaica Plain Tree of Life women participate in a community walk around Jamaica Pond April 19, 2012 as part of the Boston Moves for Health initiative.

When it comes to losing weight in Boston, apparently it’s easier said than done.

A citywide campaign, launched by the Boston Public Health Commission with great fanfare in April and aimed at encouraging residents to shed a collective 1 million pounds over a year, is far from hitting the mark.

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The latest count by the initiative, dubbed Boston Moves for Health, shows just under 69,000 pounds lost as of Wednesday — less than one-tenth of the way there.

But the other side of the equation — getting Bostonians to move 10 million miles altogether — is adding up, with residents walking, running, swimming, and biking slightly more than 5 million miles, according to the city health commission’s tally.

“We are a little bit bewildered because we are doing so great with people being physically active,” said Barbara Ferrer, the commission’s executive director, about barely moving the needle on the campaign website’s weight-loss counter. “I don’t think people are crazy about recording pounds lost on a public site.”

Hoping to inspire residents in the new year — and realizing that dieters are more likely to share progress in a more intimate setting — the commission is working with Weight Watchers in January to offer discounts for at least six months on weight loss and weight management services to 1,000 residents who receive care at health centers in Dorchester, Mattapan, and East Boston. Weight Watchers will track the weight loss and report it to the commission, Ferrer said.

The commission also is planning a February challenge to employers, hoping to pit companies against each other to see which employee teams can walk the most steps during the competition.Executives from a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts team trounced their counterparts at the Boston Red Sox during a similar summer challenge sponsored by the commission.

“People want to be healthy,” Ferrer said. “We just need to make it more affordable, easier, and provide lots of opportunities to integrate it into everyday activities.”

The commission also trained about 100 licensed child-care center operators on simple ways to incorporate more movement into their curriculum this fall and offered small incentives — free hula hoops and footballs — to sweeten the initiative, Ferrer said.

The first eight months of the city’s campaign has seen several high points, she said. More than 2,300 residents participated in free yoga, kickboxing, Zumba, and boot camp sessions on City Hall Plaza this summer; a collective 469,370 miles were logged by children who attended city camps this summer; and roughly 20,000 elementary school children logged a collective 9,628 miles during a four-week challenge this fall.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who championed the campaign early on, is recovering from a lengthy hospitalization with a variety of ailments, including a new diabetes diagnosis, but Ferrer said his latest health battles highlight the challenges many face every day.

“He eats out a lot because of his job, and it’s often easier to control your eating habits when you are eating at home,” Ferrer said. “The mayor is really one of those people who has struggled around this weight loss issue, and his idea [with the Boston Moves for Health campaign] was to say you are not alone.”

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

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