PITTSBURGH — Nearly 59 million Americans adults are obese, and half of all U.S. deaths are linked to physical inactivity and tobacco smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To battle the obesity epidemic, the YMCA of the USA launched the Activate America campaign to build healthy communities one person at a time.

Fourteen U.S. cities are launching community-wide pilot programs, but the more than 2,500 YMCAs will eventually bring together government, businesses, not-for-profits, schools and media to identify ways communities can lead healthier lifestyles. John Cardone, vice president of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, says his city plans to target three areas — smoking, youth and teens, and active older adults — in its Activate Pittsburgh initiative. Nearly a quarter of all the Pittsburgh residents reported that they didn't participate in any physical activity in the last month, and the city ranked as the 11th most obese in the nation. He said there's a lot of misconceptions about exercise.

“Some people think they have to go run a marathon rather than cutting the grass for 30 minutes,” Cardone said. “They don't realize that it's not as hard as they make it out to be.”

To win the battle against weight gain and poor health, the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh partnered with Highmark, UPMC Health System, University of Pittsburgh Center for Minority Health, the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh and PNC Financial Corp. to launch the wellness campaign. The YMCA invited 100 children from its After School programs to participate in yoga classes, football training exercises, and healthy food races during the kickoff event in late March at the Pittsburgh Steelers practice facility.

The organizers plan to develop a series of health and wellness programs in local schools, churches and community centers and work with local restaurants, grocery stores and senior centers to increase healthy food choices. They also plan to make physical education more available in the city's schools. Eric Mann, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, said the epidemic of unhealthy living is a community problem that deserves a community solution.

“Pittsburgh is facing a public health emergency because we have become so inactive,” Mann said. “The rates of obesity and the chronic diseases associated with it are soaring throughout the region, and it's not only hurting our health, but our children as well.”

The YMCA of Dallas is also encouraging its residents to “get a move on” by exercising at least 30 minutes a day. Laura Miller, mayor of Dallas, and Gordon Echtenkamp, president/CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas, recently launched the city-wide Activate America fitness initiative and awareness campaign. The Get a Move On program will encourage local companies to develop and support their own wellness programs, maintain a Web site that lists a calendar of current events and support city-wide runs and walks.