Metro

City website will track residents’ weight loss

When Mayor Thomas M. Menino promised Tuesday night to help Boston residents collectively “shed a million pounds this year,’’ he was serious.

The Boston Public Health Commission will launch a citywide campaign this spring, inviting residents to log in to a website where they can record their starting weight and their goals and track their progress, executive director Barbara Ferrer said in an interview. The website will include a database of places people can go to exercise.

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Need a gym in Dorchester? The site will include gym listings searchable by neighborhood. Looking for a free family activity? The city and its partners in the campaign will be hosting bike rides, introductory exercise classes, and other activities across the city over the year. They will be listed on the website.

The million-pound goal is a feasible one, Ferrer said. About half of the adults living in Boston, or about 250,000 people, are overweight or obese, she said. Another 20,000 or more school-aged children weigh more than they should.

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If each person loses just 2 or 3 pounds, the city will hit its target, she said.

“This is going to be a fun, community-building opportunity,’’ Ferrer said.

The health commission and other city departments have been working on various healthy food and exercise initiatives for years now, improving school breakfasts and lunches, creating community and backyard gardens, and building neighborhood playgrounds.

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“You can walk in almost any neighborhood and see an upgraded playground,’’ Ferrer said.

Her office will launch several new programs with similar aims this year.

Among them, the commission will be recruiting licensed daycare operators to attend training sessions on how to prepare healthy snacks for children and incorporate physical activity into the day. Those operators will be eligible for $250 grants to use to buy items such as staff-training materials, food-preparation appliances, or indoor-activity equipment for children they serve.

Ferrer also plans to hire a nutritionist to work with small neighborhood restaurants on developing healthful children’s menus.

So often, those menus are heavy on french fries and chicken fingers. Ferrer would like to see more fresh fruits and vegetables added to the options.

That effort probably will be focused, to start, in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury, where obesity rates are highest.

She said her staff often hears from families there who say that they cannot find a healthy meal in their neighborhood restaurants.

“The name of the game is, wherever people are spending time, we should try to make those places that promote good health,’’ Ferrer said.

The commission is also creating educational kits to distribute to workplaces in the city, with guidance on how to promote exercise and healthy food choices among employees.

Ferrer said people should watch for an official launch of the campaign - the working title is “Boston Moves for Health’’ - in the spring.

The details are still being worked out, Ferrer said, and she did not have a total dollar amount for what the city will spend in the effort.

But, between Menino’s commitment and the interest the city has already seen from hospitals, insurers, and other partners, “money is not going to be the obstacle,’’ she said.

Boston is not the first city to set a million-pound goal. Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City announced last week that more than 47,000 people in his city had tracked their weight loss. Collectively, they hit the mark, though the effort took four years. Menino set the goal for this year.

“Look, weight is an issue that many of us struggle with,’’ he said during his annual State of the City address.

“But what is daunting on our own becomes doable when we work together.’’

Chelsea Conaboy can be reached at cconaboy@boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @cconaboy.
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