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Initiative Seeks A Healthier City In One Generation


Public health advocates today marked 20 years of activism in Springfield, Massachusetts by promoting an initiative to dramatically improve the overall health of the city’s population.

 Public health professionals want to reduce infant mortality, obesity, asthma, heart disease, and other largely preventable health problems in Springfield in a span of just one generation. The “Healthiest Springfield 2030” program is part of a national effort to make the United States the healthiest country in the world in 15 years.

The effort began Monday with a kickoff program in Springfield City Hall to mark the 20th annual Springfield Public Health Month in April.

Keynote speaker Samuel Headley, citing public health statistics that show Springfield with higher-than-state-average levels of smoking, hospitalizations due to diabetes, obesity levels, and deaths from heart disease, urged the public health officials to identify barriers to healthy lifestyles.

" They have to identify the barriers and channel resources to address the barriers that can be easily dealt with," said Headley

Headley, who is a professor of exercise science and sports studies at Springfield College, said a lack of time is the reason people cite most often for not exercising.

" If a person has to work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet, the reality is they don't have the time to go to the gym, but education can help them identify things they can do in their lives to enhance physical activity," he said.

Several studies have documented racial and ethnic disparities in health care.

Helen Caulton-Harris, commissioner of the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services said the department is partnering with businesses, community groups, schools and individuals to promote health wellness programs.

"  I am confident we can make the shift," she said.

A series of exercise programs and health fairs will be held in Springfield in April, some geared specifically to different demographic groups such as teenagers and seniors.

Children from Head Start and the Square One childcare centers took part in Monday’s program.  Janis Santos, executive director of Head Start in western Massachusetts said there has been more emphasis in the last five years on pre-school programs promoting healthier lifestyles.

Massachusetts officials have declared the opioid addiction epidemic to be a public health emergency, but Caulton-Harris said the crisis is not as acute in Springfield as it is in the suburbs and rural towns.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.