CHICAGO -- Sixteen new communities joined the YMCA of the USA’s Statewide Pioneering Healthier Communities (PHC) initiative, a coordinated effort designed to combat childhood obesity, the organization announced this week.

The PHC initiative aims to reduce childhood obesity by promoting changes in local policy, systems and environment. For instance, the Blue Water YMCA in Port Huron, MI, plans to use program funds to provide healthy food and beverages to school children, increase physical activity among local children and improve access to safe play areas.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation committed $6.8 million over five years to support expansion of the Y’s PHC program. The 16 new communities join 16 others selected in 2009 from Connecticut, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The newly chosen communities include:

• In Illinois: Chicago, Glen Ellyn, Joliet, Kankakee, Oak Park, Peoria, Quincy and Schaumburg.

• In Michigan: Adrian, Owosso and Port Huron.

• In Ohio: Dover, Mansfield, Marion, Piqua and Toledo.

“The Y is bringing leaders from all sectors together to make changes that will result in healthier communities,” Neil Nicoll, Y-USA president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Statewide PHC extends the mission of the Y beyond our walls, giving back and providing support to our neighbors throughout the community with a proven model for creating healthier opportunities in order to fight childhood obesity.”

Since 2004, the 164 communities participating in PHC have improved pedestrian safety and neighborhood walkability, increased access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and strengthened physical education requirements in schools.