Stimulus money to improve public health?

David LudwigDavid Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) Program, has been an outspoken advocate for government investment in infrastructure that supports physically active lifestyles (like new bike paths and recreational facilities).

Now, embedded within the health care legislation weaving through Congress is an innovative provision that would do just that. The bill includes potentially billions of dollars in the form of community grants that could be used to build jungle gyms, improve lighting in parks and provide better access to nutritional food.

“President Obama has spoken of using the economic crisis as an opportunity to align the economic system with fundamental values of our society,” says Ludwig. “Few projects can compare in importance with public health measures to combat the obesity epidemic. The investment we could make now would be returned many-fold to society, through reduced health care costs in treating diabetes and heart disease, and the greater productivity of a healthy workforce.”

In the February 4 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association, Ludwig argues that ongoing economic stimulus programs to address the recession provide an unprecedented opportunity to lay the foundations for improved public health for decades to come.

Some of his specific recommendations include:

  • Building fully functional school kitchens (many now can only microwave or deep-fry food)
  • Building bike paths, sidewalks, car-free zones, parks and recreation facilities
  • Establishing community centers to provide inexpensive nutritious foods and recreational opportunities in one location
  • Providing loans and grants to revitalize family farming
  • Restructuring farm subsidies to favor more nutritious foods
  • Allowing food stamps to be used at farmer’s markets
  • More stringent regulation of food advertisements and marketing to children

For more information about Ludwig’s work in childhood obesity prevention and treatment, visit Children’s Optimal Weight for Life program Web site.