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How Local Health Departments Can Reduce Obesity in Children & Adults and Encourage Exercise

By Marisa Pangaro

For decades, obesity in America has been steadily increasing at a noticeable rate and can be attributed to declining rates of physical exercise and a lack of access to healthy food options. 

Public officials may recognize the serious nature of protecting public health, but local governments need to take real action by encouraging citizens to lead healthy lifestyles in their communities. Without the right game-plan set in motion by your local government, your community will continue to eat poorly and not get enough exercise. 

How local governments can address obesity is a question public officials have been asking for years and struggling to solve; in this guide we’ll highlight how local governments can make actionable changes in their community that improve local public health in the long term.  

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Why Do Local Governments Need To Be Concerned About Rising Obesity Rates And Declining Exercise Rates? 

The constantly rising obesity rates throughout the country should be concerning to all local governments, especially in states and communities with the highest obesity rates. There are many public health risks associated with obesity for children and adults. Often, access to a healthy lifestyle is not as accessible as government officials might assume. Research shows that socio-economic status largely affects overall health and obesity rates, making it more likely that people with less financial means suffer from the effects of poor public health the most.

This public health crisis has many negative, wide-reaching effects. Obesity is the precursor for many debilitating health issues and complications that have been linked to unhealthy food and a lack of exercise. Researchers at Harvard University that study the effects of obesity in children and adults, have discovered results that link obesity to 

  • Diabetes, 
  • Heart disease, and 
  • Various forms of cancer 

The study stated “excess weight, especially obesity, diminishes almost every aspect of health, from reproductive and respiratory function to memory and mood.” Addressing obesity at all ages is a public health necessity.  

Actions Local Governments Can Take To Promote Physical Health

Physical health needs to be mindfully maintained on a regular basis which takes time and effort on behalf of the citizens of the community. Keep reading to learn how local governments can encourage citizens to exercise. 

  • Prioritize Public Spaces Like Parks And Sports Fields

Public spaces need to be maintained and well-kept in order for citizens to take advantage of them. Ensure citizens feel safe in local public spaces with Public Space And Building Inspections.

Constituents should be encouraged to use public spaces for activities centering around exercise, giving community members an outlet for physical activity. Make sure your local outdoor spaces are accessible to everyone in the community with features such as walkways, sidewalks, bright lights, and plenty of space. Online activity registration forms and government facility applications for people to request space for adult and children’s recreational & competitive sports. 

Here are common ways Local Governments Can Maximize Public Spaces to reduce the need for a car and encourage exercise.

  • Offer Resources Online And In Public Meetings Regarding Exercise & Healthy Eating Choices 

Marginalized and underserved community members with lower socio-economic status often don’t have the ability to spend money on healthy groceries, because they are too expensive. It is also common for these community members to lack the time required to spend on exercising. Government officials must educate citizens and provide better access to healthy food to reduce obesity rates. 

Consider these tips for Making the Most Out of Local Public Meetings.

  • Pass Ordinances To Provide Accessible And Affordable Healthy Eating Options

Public health ordinances are advantageous when it comes to protecting community members’ health because they allow local governments to create regulations to address specific issues in their municipality. When it comes to healthy food, ordinances in your locality can ensure that restaurants and stores follow guidelines about the food options they provide. 

Local government ordinances have the ability to ensure that restaurants label their menu items with health facts and offer a variety of healthy food options. 

Code enforcement software is the best solution for monitoring if public health ordinances are being followed. Specific codes can be pulled up while code enforcement officials are in the field and fines can be issued in real-time. Learn more about How to Form a Modern Code Enforcement Strategy.

  • Use Social Media Campaigns to Encourage Citizen Health

With most Americans using some form of social media, social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are a great place to reach your residents and encourage them to watch after their health. Start a local fitness challenge by posting a video while running or doing pushups, or just walking in the park. This creates friendly competition among residents that can turn community based health into something fun! Use government social media accounts to inform residents of healthy activities like farmers markets, public yoga classes, pop-up events and other things that make your community fun and enjoyable!

  • Make It Easy To Rent Sports Facilities And Form Sports Leagues

Renting public spaces and creating sports leagues should be very simple for community members to do as it will increase the overall amount of physical activity your citizens engage in. Making sure that your local government operates with public-facing digital forms and automated workflows will make receiving requests, like the request to rent sports facilities simple.

Utilize GovPilot’s local government municipal and county clerks’ software to make licensing, permitting, and request fulfillment more organized, efficient, and transparent. 

  • Prioritize Walking Paths And Bike Lanes Across The Community 

Walking is the most effective low-impact form of cardio exercise, and it is accessible /free. When people have the option to safely walk or bike to their destination, often they will opt to ditch their cars and travel on foot. However, many communities don’t have well-maintained walking and biking paths throughout the community to allow people to make the healthier choice. 

Make sure that your Local Government Strategic Planning prioritizes walking paths and sidewalks / bike lanes so that citizens can safely travel around the community on foot using these helpful guides:

America is heavily reliant on cars as a whole, but encouraging members of your community to reduce their reliance on cars will ensure higher numbers of community members are getting their steps in, daily. 

Make sure your city is walkable by prioritizing the safety of walkable pathways and building up neighborhoods to be 15 Minute Cities.

GovTip: Not only does increasing walkability help to encourage exercise, but it also makes your community more accessible for low-income families without a vehicle. Learn more about how less car reliance can Make Local Governments More Equitable and Improve Local Economic Development

  • Encourage Businesses To Invest In The Community And Consider Which Neighborhoods Lack These Assets

Use government resources and connections to entice gyms, health oriented restaurants, grocery stores, and other similar businesses that will help to improve community health. Remind health-oriented businesses that community outreach regarding health will greatly benefit all community members. 

Vulnerable members of the community typically have less healthy resources in their neighborhoods, and the local government should be intervening and ensuring gyms and healthy food stores exist across the community. 

A government agriculture strategy can involve working with private-sector partners in the farming industry to produce healthy, organic crops. 

  • Increase Access To National, State, And Local Nutrition Assistance Programs

Vulnerable communities are usually left out of conversations regarding public health, and don’t receive enough consideration from the local government. Put an end to this by increasing nutrition assistance programs state-wide in systems like public schools and public health initiatives. 

For additional information on Actionable Tips for Local Public Health Directors, use our resource. 

Government technology is making it possible for countless improvements to be made in your local government. Learn more:

How Can Local Governments Provide Educational Resources for Adults and Children To Reduce Obesity?

Education plays a vital role in reducing rates of childhood obesity and encouraging lifelong healthy living. Intervening with negative health habits in schools creates a level playing field for children of all backgrounds to understand the importance of maintaining physical health, as does providing adults and parents with educational health and diet tips. 

1. Provide Educational Resources About Healthy Eating, Preventing Obesity, And Exercising Tips On Your Government Website 

On your government website, provide facts about healthy eating habits as well as links to other resources where citizens can get information about how to take care of their physical health. Make it easy and accessible for all citizens to find information that they can trust to better themselves. 

Create a section on the government website for physical fitness and provide information on public exercise events such as a run in the park or classes provided by the local government. Promote activities that will give citizens easy opportunities to work out and build community. 

Here are Ways to Make a Government Website More Functional & Helpful.

2. Ask The Public Questions Regarding Public Space Usage 

Public outreach is the most effective way to gauge what kinds of community events they would like to attend and the types of issues that are impacting their physical health. Ask community members what concerns they have about the status quo in the community, including concerns pertaining to food options, public space usage, public events, etc. Public Health Data Management & Storage can help to track and record responses from the public. 

Use GovPilot To Prioritize Public Health In Your Community And Keep Citizens Healthy

Protect citizen health now by encouraging children and adults to exercise and eat better to reduce obesity in your community. 

Use GovPilots health department software to improve public health in your community with cloud-based inspection and permitting software. To learn more about how GovPilot health department software can help with testing and beyond, book a consultation.

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Public Health FAQs

1. Why do health departments need to prioritize targeting obesity with exercise?

Obesity needs to be targeted with exercise because it is the healthiest and most affordable way to improve overall health. Even ten minutes of exercise per day increases energy expenditure, which helps to build stamina, maintain higher daily energy levels, improve sleep, regulate hormones and shed body fat. 

Read about other common Challenges Local Governments Face and how GovPilot can provide solutions. 

2. How can local governments prevent childhood obesity?

Childhood obesity requires prevention from a very early age. Increasing accessibility and providing all young children in your community with public opportunities for enjoyable exercise will combat the growing problem of childhood obesity. 

3. How can educational resources help with local health?

Educational resources make a huge difference in creating an even playing field for all students because school is what all American children have in common. Ensuring all children in school regardless of socioeconomic status or age are provided with information and means to maintain their physical health will help them to make healthier choices. 

Educational resources also provide information for citizens about financial literacy and how it relates to overall wellness. Make upward mobility a priority in your locality and learn more about its benefits for public health, wellness, and slowing down obesity rates. 

Read the Government Trends blog for more helpful public sector tips: 


Tags: Constituent Engagement, Blog, Civic Engagement, Health Department, Public Health