Mayor Ivy Taylor, H-E-B and Blue Cross Blue Shield Texas, and other members of the Mayor’s Fitness Council (MFC) shared the stage with a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables Tuesday to announce the start of VegOutSA! a new wellness and nutrition campaign that aims to persuade adults and children in San Antonio to make fresh produce a greater part of their daily diets and lives.
San Antonio, despite showing real progress in recent years, is still plagued by epidemic levels of obesity, adolescent obesity, Type II diabetes, and associated afflictions. While the city has made substantial progress, the emphasis seems to be on actualization and Opening Day.
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“The old adage that you are what you eat is true,” said Kate Rogers, the current MFC chair and the vice president of partner communication and engagement with H-E-B. Looking over the displays of ripe berries and bananas, corn on the cob, cauliflower and broccoli heads, radish bunches and squashes, she added, “Fruits and vegetables don’t have to be boring. They actually can be a lot of fun.”
The attractive display of fresh, healthy produce, she pointed out, could be bought for $40 and turned into a week’s worth of meals and side dishes.
“We are excited to launch this very important campaign … to raise awareness and educate the community on the health benefits of consuming more fruits and vegetables for a good daily diet and to show our residents that increasing their daily consumption doesn’t have to be a chore, it’s something that is easy, affordable and fun,” said Mayor Taylor. “I have to admit that I ate breakfast a little early and so my stomach is kind of making some noises and I am here looking at all these wonderful, healthy snack options, so pardon me if I grab a banana.”
Mayor Taylor pointed out that the March campaign, which happens to fall in National Nutrition Month, is aimed at a citywide audience and residents of all income levels and geographic areas.
“We’ve heard repeatedly in the past that fruits and vegetables are good for your health, but now we are taking that message, as we say around here, deep in the heart,” Mayor Taylor said. “We want to be inclusive of all of San Antonio in relation to this message and use this as an opportunity to boost wellness and make San Antonio one of the healthiest cities in the nation. What we eat is just as important, if not more important, as what we do in the gym or on the trails or however we try to burn those calories. Let’s as a city lead by example in 2015. … We want to be good example for the young people because we know the habits they form young will take them through their lifetime.
“You might be asking why we are making such a big deal out of this? This is a huge deal for us in San Antonio because our health and wellness impacts the ways we can contribute to our community as a whole and to our economy, so we want people to be as healthy as they can,” Mayor Taylor said. “We are finding a host of chronic diseases that we’ve dealt with, diabetes and obesity, and we know these have costs for our community, not just health costs but financial costs as well. By simply choosing to eat an extra apple a day, or drinking those delicious smoothies or adding a side salad to your dinner you can help improve the quality of your life and the quality of life of the community overall.”
Mayor Taylor set an example of healthy snacking by helping herself to “a handful of berries” after addressing the audience at City Hall.
Alex, one of the two fit-looking middle school students on hand to hold aloft the VegOutSA! banner behind the morning’s speakers, lost 100 pounds over the last year, according to Mary Ullmann Japhet, the previous MFC chair and senior vice president for communications and community engagement at San Antonio Sports.
“Now that’s what I call leading by example,” she said, noting that Alex had persuaded school officials to add a salad bar to the school cafeteria.
“I do want to remind us that we are still really struggling with high, high rates of obesity in our community,” said Jennifer Herriott, the assistant director of the City’s Community Health Division at Metro Health. “Six of every 10 adults are overweight or obese in San Antonio, and among our high school students, three of every 10 are overweight or obese, so there is a tremendous amount of work we need to do. As has been mentioned, physical activity is important, but eating your fruits and vegetables, five, seven, nine times, as many as you get in in a day, is very important.”
Herriott said parents should place fresh fruits and vegetables on kitchen counters where they are easily accessible to children looking for a snack.
Dr. Esteban López, regional president of the San Antonio region of Blue Cross Blue Shield Texas and a practitioner in pediatrics and internal medicine, also spoke about public health issues.
“Moving the needle on public health is something we are committed to,” said Dr. López, who also serves as a MFC member. ‘The VegOutSA! campaign is really an opportunity to change the lives of our residents, starting with children and families … as a practicing pediatrician I know how important fruits and vegetables are in people’s lives.”
Speakers praised the advances San Antonio has made in creating the linear park and trailway system, restoring the Museum and Mission Reaches of the San Antonio River and inviting residents to participate in everything from Síclovía (next event will be March 29 in Southtown) to free exercise programs in city parks. Now the focus is turning to diet and nutrition.
The campaign will include highway billboards, public service messages and a competition among area employers to help workers reduce their weight by adopting healthier eating habits. H-E-B will provide the winning company with free produce for one year to stock in its employee break room. Registered dietitians on H-E-B’s staff will offer free grocery store tours for shoppers to educate them on the use and preparation of unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, and they will publish healthy recipes that help customers learn new ways of incorporating fresh produce in meals.
So far, H-E-B and VIA have signed up for the employer wellness competition. The Rivard Report will track the program throughout 2015 and work with the H-E-B dietitians to share recipes and tips and alert readers to grocery store demos. For more information, visit the FitCitySA website. You also can enjoy some healthy food preparation videos that make meal preparations simple. Follow the campaign on Twitter via hashtag #VegOutSA.
*Featured/top image: Team VegOutSA! (From left) Jeff Skelton, Mayor’s Fitness Council (MFC) member and Humana executive; Dr. López, MFC member and area president, Blue Cross Blue Shield Texas; Mayor Ivy Taylor; Kate Rogers, MFC chair and VP, H-E-B; Jennifer Herriott, assistant director, Metro Health; and Mary Ullmann Japhet, MFC past chair and SVP, San Antonio Sports. Photo by Robert Rivard.
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