Baltimore should improve access to fresh produce and recreational activities in low-income neighborhoods to stem childhood obesity, according to a City Council task force report released yesterday.
"This is more serious than smoking," said City Councilwoman Agnes Welch, who has overseen the issue in the council. "Let this be a movement: We're going to stop childhood obesity in the city of Baltimore."
The report recommends creating health zones in which city officials would work with schools, food stores and churches in three- to four-block areas to ensure that healthy food is available and that children have safe places to be physically active.
From 1980 to 2004, the prevalence of overweight children ages 6 to 11 more than doubled, according to the report. Overweight people are at a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and several types of cancer.
Much of the report focuses on what the city school system can do to improve health, including requiring playgrounds at all elementary schools and renegotiating contracts with food vendors to provide healthier food choices.
Welch said the council will hold a hearing on the report at 5 p.m. today at City Hall.
"As we recognize our role in reversing this trend, let's today resolve to recognize the role we all play - as parents, as teachers, as mentors and as role models - in ending the epidemic of childhood obesity," said City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake.