First Lady’s health campaign motivates Island


In February of this year, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the LetsMove campaign aimed at addressing a serious health issue with the goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation.

Inspired by this initiative, a group of locals will be kicking off an Island version of the national campaign that will target Islanders of all ages and hopefully lead to a community commitment to improved health.

The newly formed LetsMove Martha’s Vineyard will host an inaugural event on August 24 that will feature activities, healthy food preparation and samples, sign-up opportunities for those interested in making a commitment to maintaining an active lifestyle, and a general aim of promoting wellness. Although details of who will be involved were not completely in place, the organizers hope to recruit many local businesses and organizations that are dedicated to promoting a healthy lifestyle.

The idea behind the movement is to unite the many nutrition and fitness focused organizations — including restaurants, health clubs, and recreation providers, into one solidified front to mount a campaign toward shared personal improvement.

“It takes a whole community to change culture and a culture change is what’s needed here,” Nancy Phillips, LetsMove M.V. chairman, said. “The Island is a perfect place for this because it’s a very closed community and we can make a terrific impact here if we all work together on this.”

Director of Marketing Erin Bayer Santos, said that the local take on the national program is unique in that they hope to involve the entire community, not just kids. She noted that the local organization is partnered as an official advocate of the national LetsMove program. “We’re tagging it ‘Moving towards better health in 2011.'”

Ms. Bayer Santos explained that the initial push will be a six-week program, modeled after the President’s challenge, which individuals can volunteer to take part in. The group plans to have sign up sheets at the upcoming event to allow people to commit to an active lifestyle for six weeks. They plan to organize group activities throughout the six week period — with a variety of daily workout opportunities to help people reach the target of being active for at least 30 minutes a day.

Ms. Bayer Santos thinks that this jump-start initiative will lead to a permanent lifestyle change. “The point is to instill being active as a part of everyday life,” she said. “Being fit and moving towards better health can be fun and exciting.”

Ms. Phillips added, “Over the next year, we’d like to see what we can do to get people excited about the program and hopefully it will be a lifelong change.”

Ms. Phillips is a nurse practitioner and exercise physiologist with Island Health Care at the Triangle in Edgartown. Her 35 years of experience in the field, especially working with cardiac wellness and rehab programs, has taught her the importance of maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle. She cites some disheartening statistics, noting that 27 percent of children in this country are obese or overweight and the average child spends 7 hours and 38 minutes in front of a screen (TV, computer, or game devices) every day. Tracking and reducing screen time is a part of the First Lady’s program.

Ms. Phillips wants to try to get Island schools involved in the campaign. She finds encouragement in initiatives like the Island Grown Schools project, which is committed to bringing local foods to the schools. Community meals may also be a part of LetsMove M.V.

The event, which will be centered in Waban-Alley Park, will also branch out throughout Oak Bluffs. There will be a special tennis match and a basketball demo in Niantic Park, an all-star Little League game in Veira Park, and a race hosted by Sail Martha’s Vineyard in the Oak Bluffs Harbor.

Booths in the central area will feature information about activities such as kayaking and other fitness options. There will be demonstrations and lessons in hula hooping and Capoiera, among other activities. Local restaurants and other food providers will host demos and provide food samples.

Ms. Bayer Santos explained that ACE MV, an adult education program, will be on board to promote their curriculum of fitness classes.

The event is timed to help people transition to the less active off-season months. “I see a lot of depression and inactivity in the winter,” Ms. Phillips said. But, she added the Island is fortunate to have a host of local organizations dedicated to fitness. One of LetsMove M.V.’s goals is to raise awareness of the many options out there.

“Society has become so stressful. I talk to a lot of people who say that they’d like to do something but they don’t know where to start,” Ms. Bayer Santos said.

“There are a lot of great things happening on the Island,” noted Ms. Phillips. “If we all work together we can make a difference.”

Gwyn McAllister, of Oak Bluffs, is a frequent contributor to The Times.