YMCA Targets America's Poor Health
> 1/17/2008 2:53:18 PM

Since its formation in 1844, YMCAs across America have provided youth programs, social activities, child care, and other services to meet the needs of their communities. Last month, the Y announced its continuing commitment to a new goal: improving health by addressing the lifestyle crisis facing Americans each day. Through its programs, the Y aims to combat obesity and provide Americans with the means and the motivation to improve their overall health.

One of the Y's biggest weapons in its fight against obesity is Activate America, a program it initiated in 2004, which allows communities to develop strategies for meeting their specific health-related needs. Some participating Ys offer personalized exercise programs free to members, for example, while others have initiated community-wide weight-loss drives. Of America's 2,663 Ys, over 80% have adopted the Activate America program.

One component of Activate America is the Pioneering Healthier Communities project. Also, begun in 2004, this initiative supports communities as they promote healthier living and overcome barriers to a healthy lifestyle. Communities involved with this program have made practical and important changes in their environment such as ensuring that children receive healthier lunches and snacks in school, emphasizing the importance of physical education in school, improving bike paths and hiking trails, and creating farmers' markets. Last month at the annual Pioneering Healthier Communities Conference, representatives from 18 new communities joined those already involved in the project, raising the total number of communities involved to 64.

The Y continues to grow, hoping to see a 25% increase in members over the next four years, and there may be no better time to become involved with the Y than now. A survey of health clubs and gyms just released by Consumer Reports found that most people rated the Y higher than brand name gyms, both for its value and its quality. Those working for the Y believe in the importance of helping anyone wishing to pursue a healthier lifestyle, and their dedication is reflected in the Y's policies as well as its programs. Membership to the Y usually cost less than that for brand name gyms, and financial assistance is also available, so for many people, the Y is an ideal place for creating a healthier life.

The causes of America's obesity epidemic are complex, and the Y has acknowledged this by addressing multiple facets of the problem. By encouraging change at both a communal and an individual level, they aim to change our behaviors as well as our environment. The Y has always recognized the interconnectedness of mental and physical health, and by recognizing the need for change across the country, we can also follow their goal of "building healthy spirit, mind, and body."

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