CHICAGO -- The YMCA of the USA recently recognized five Ys for their involvement in Pioneering Healthier Communities (PHC), an initiative that helps communities form a team of community leaders to implement solutions to improve eating habits and increase physical activity.

Since the program began in July 2004, select YMCAs across the country have assembled teams of business executives, hospital administrators, elected officials, school superintendents, leaders of academic institutions and public health officials to improve the physical environments and lifestyle choices available to community residents. From developing walking and bike paths to making sure nutritious options are available in school vending machines, PHC teams develop and execute interventions that influence local policy, the environment and area programs. These local changes often serve as models for replication in other communities nationwide.

The five Ys recognized for their PHC programs are:

  • The Attleboro Y (MA) team, with technical support from the National Park Service, is working to improve the walkability of Attleboro with an extensive city-wide trail. It also plans to expand a bike-path system and make improvements to sidewalks, thereby increasing opportunities for residents to be active.
  • This Y of Greater Rochester (NY) team worked with their child care food vendor for three full-day child care sites, requiring fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and enhancing servings of whole grains.
  • The YMCA of the Suncoast team in Clearwater, FL, influenced the two largest providers of after-school care by requiring 30 minutes of daily physical activity in their programming. The county government adopted the physical activity requirement as part of its licensing requirements for all after-school programs.
  • The Rapid City Y (SD) team has actively campaigned for public policies that support walking and biking. The Rapid City city council has denied variances for developers who wanted to develop a project without sidewalks, and sidewalks and bike paths are in construction projects that did not initially include them.
  • The Y of Grand Rapids (MI) team, in response to limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables for inner-city residents, planted three community gardens and started a farmers’ market to increase opportunities for residents to purchase healthy foods.

PHC is part of the Y’s campaign to Activate America. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides financial support and serves as a key expert advisor for PHC. The PepsiCo Foundation also supports the program.