PITTSFIELD -- Curbing obesity and the broad range of associated health risks is the priority for the "Mass in Motion" campaign in Northern Berkshire County.
Amanda Chilson was hired at the beginning of the year as a project coordinator for the initiative, which is managed by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, a group striving to improve the quality of life for Northern Berkshire residents.
Chilson has been criss-crossing the northern half of the county, advocating a multipronged approach with community partners -- some already have obesity programs -- with the intent of curbing obesity and promoting healthy living as part of a five-year campaign in the towns of Adams, North Adams and Clarksburg.
Mass in Motion kicked off Friday with 150 people coming to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ Church Street Center to listen to guest speaker Mark Fenton, a national public health consultant and faculty member of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.
Kate Merrigan, Chilson’s supervisor, was pleasantly surprised to see private business, hospital workers, public officials and many other community stakeholders present and supportive of the campaign.
"It was really exciting and encouraging how many people are excited about this," she said.
Chilson could not be reached for comment, but Merrigan said one of the goals of the project is to "make the healthy choice the easy choice."
Half of Massachusetts was overweight or obese in 2007, according to a 2009 report commissioned by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. However, Western Massa chusetts has an even higher obesity rate -- 60.3 percent -- and obesity prevalence has more than doubled since 1997, according to Merrigan.
The NBCC campaign effort is backed with funding from the state Department of Public Health.
Merrigan said a healthier Northern Berkshire County in the short-term would include better walkways to schools and promotion of community partnerships. One idea supported Friday was connecting Adams and North Adams with the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail. The trail currently ends in Adams, with plans for a future extension in the works.
The emphasis is on giving people the option to live healthy, Merrigan said.
"It’s a great recreational trail, but ... we should connect what we want to use with where we want to go," Merrigan said.
Amanda Letoile, trails and outreach coordinator for Berkshire Natural Resource Council, said Chilson has been great at connecting people with similar goals.
"We have so much we can build on," said Letoile, who said she would like to see a "walking resource kiosk" that would highlight safe walking trails.
According to the 2009 state-commissioned health report, obese adults are more than three times as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes or high blood pressure.
On average, men and women who were obese at age 40 lived 5.8 and 7.1 fewer years than their peers.
Curbing obesity will be a challenge, but the early response has been positive, Merrigan said.
"We have this fantasy what some of these stores will be down the road," she said.
Where to call
NBCC is searching for community partners, parents and others who are interested in participating in the ‘Mass in Motion’ campaign. For information, call 413-663-7588.