By Karen Zautyk
When it comes to promoting health and fighting obesity, this township could very well be chosen as The Biggest Winner in the state.
First, there was the Mayor’s Weight-Loss Challenge, in which hundreds of Nutleyites participated in 2009 and 2010.
This year, Mayor Joanne Cocchiola redefined the 16-week effort as the Mayor’s Wellness Challenge, noting that it was “not only about weight loss, but also about choosing to change . . . choosing to live a healthy lifestyle from this point forward.”
Launched in January, the challenge ended last month, with 180 participants (Nutley residents and town/B of E employees) losing a combined total of 1,900 pounds. As noted on the town’s website, www.nutleynj.org, the program included not only weigh-ins, but “educational lectures, exercise classes, nutritional assessments, health screenings, support groups and 5k training.”
Nutley’s top three biggest losers were: Thomas Falduto, 42.4 lbs.; Joan Rush, 32.5 lbs., and Nick Piacenza, 32.2 lbs.
In addition to shedding pounds, many of the challengers “reported a decrease in cholesterol and blood pressure readings and the reduction of medications to control those numbers,” Cocchiola noted.
It’s projects like this that in May 2010 earned Nutley the designation of New Jersey Healthy Town – one of only eight in the state – from the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute.
And now the township has also earned a $15,000 grant from Partners for Health, an Essex-based community foundation, for a youth-directed anti-obesity project. The award was one of 10 Shaping NJ grants – from various sponsors – announced by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), which noted that, in Nutley, the funding will go toward such things as nutrition workshops, bike racks and a walking program.
All that and more will be part of yet another township-wide effort called Nutley Fit Kids, which is expected to be officially launched in October with a kick-off at Nutley High School, Cocchiola told The Observer. While the Wellness Challenge is for adults 18 and older, Nutley Fit Kids will focus on the K-12 group.
The state’s Shaping NJ program is designed to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity. In Nutley, the mayor’s office will be working with the Board of Education and the Totally Teens project at Montclair’s Mountainside Hospital to develop the specifics. (Totally Teens, Cocchiola explained, addresses wellness, weight loss and self-esteem.)
“We’re lining up sponsors,” the mayor said, adding that “this will be an all-encompassing wellness initiative” for the youngsters, focusing on such factors as fitness and healthy eating.
Current ideas include the aforementioned bike racks (to promote cycling), along with a healthy-lunch recipe contest for students and the placement of distance markers for walkers/runners in the town’s park system.
And there will be a healthy-foods film festival at the public library, serving up such fare as “Super Size Me,” the 2004 documentary about the effects – physical and psychological – of a fast-food diet.
“We’re also looking into the possibility of a dance marathon for older kids,” Cocchiola said.
“To combat obesity, we must make our communities healthier places to live,” said Acting DHSS Commissioner Mary O’Dowd in announcing the grants.
DHSS and the other funding partners “are providing technical assistance to the projects and holding webinars and other learning opportunities to support the communities in creating healthier environments,” a department statement said. “This will enable the communities to share strategies for success, discuss any challenges they face and collaborate on statewide initiatives.”
The other nine Shaping NJ grants, ranging from $7,500 to $15,000, were awarded to Montclair, Irvington and Paterson and the counties of Atlantic, Cape May, Monmouth (it received two), Somerset and Warren.