NBC's "Today" show and Baltimore officials launched a year-long campaign Sunday to help improve the health and fitness of city residents.
The "Today" show asked viewers across the country to nominate a city for the public service campaign. The morning show selected Baltimore in part because of the city's high rates of diabetes, obesity and residents who smoke.
"We looked through thousands of Facebook comments and Tweets from viewers telling us about their communities," said Dee Dee Thomas, the executive producer of Weekend Today. "We received very passionate and heartfelt comments from some of our viewers in Baltimore."
The effort is part of the "Today" show's "Shine a Light" campaign where on-air personalities champion causes. Other projects include anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie's campaign to build more playgrounds nationwide.
The weekend anchors of "Today" — Erica Hill, Lester Holt, Jenna Wolfe and Dylan Dreyer — will visit Baltimore throughout the year to promote health and fitness. The anchors' visits will then be featured as health and fitness segments on the weekend "Today" show.
"We will be conducting a health fair in Baltimore later this year that will include experts on health, nutrition, and fitness," Thomas said. "Jenna Wolfe will be hosting fitness clinics in Baltimore, and we also plan to work with some local chefs to learn how the community can revamp some of the traditional Baltimore dishes — with a healthy twist."
City officials such as health commissioner Oxiris Barbot and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will also take part in the program.
"This will be an incredible opportunity to highlight health and wellness initiatives underway in Baltimore," Barbot said.
Rawlings-Blake appeared during the introductory segment that aired Sunday. During the segment, Rawlings-Blake described her past struggles with her weight and how she now works to live a healthier lifestyle. The change was inspired by her daughter, Rawlings-Blake said.
"This is the example I wanted to set for my daughter," she told the morning show.
Just a few hours after her "Today" show spot, the mayor got an added dose of national TV exposure, appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press."
On the public-affairs show, Rawlings-Blake invited gay and lesbian residents of Arizona to move to Baltimore.
Asked about vetoed legislation that would have allowed businesses in Arizona to refuse to provide service to gay and lesbian residents, Rawlings-Blake said it "burns [her] up" that people still face discrimination in 2014.
She acknowledged the western state likely has better weather than Baltimore, but said the city has a more welcoming attitude toward LGBT residents.
"On balance, I think the LGBT community would be better off, save the weather — we can't promise you the weather — but better off in Baltimore," the mayor said. "I'm more than happy to deal with the welcome."
Sun staff writer Luke Broadwater contributed this articleCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun