Miami-Dade County

County gets U.S. grant to help fight obesity

Better bike paths, more fruits and vegetables in neighborhood stores and more outdoor farmers' markets are some of the ways Miami-Dade plans to spend $14.7 million it will receive from the federal government.

The grant, aimed at fighting obesity, is part of a $370 million program called Communities Putting Prevention to Work announced Friday by the Obama Administration.

The grants go to 44 counties, cities, tribes and other groups across the country to fight obesity and tobacco use. The money comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Lillian Rivera, administrator of the Miami-Dade Health Department, said she was thrilled. "I've worked in public health for 30 years, and I've never seen a pot of money this big for chronic health problems."

Instrumental in winning the grant, Rivera said, was the Consortium for a Healthier Miami-Dade set up in 2003. It brings together the Miami-Dade School Board, county government, the Health Foundation of South Florida and others to work on health problems.

Here's how the grants will be used in Miami-Dade:

• The School Board and Parks and Recreation Department will create safer routes to encourage children to walk to school by hiring crossing guards, improving signs and persuading parents that walking is safe.

• The Health Department will work to get corner food stores to stock healthy fruits and vegetables in inner-city neighborhoods that don't have supermarkets.

• The Zoning Department will encourage developers to create bike and walking paths in new communities.

• The Florida Agricultural Extension Service will work to set up farmers' markets in more locations.

The grants were announced in Washington, D.C. by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

"We know two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese," she said. "This comes with huge costs for their health -- heart dis

ease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes. Last year these cost the nation $150 billion in health care costs. "We've made a lot of progress over the past 50 years in reducing tobacco use. But now this has stalled. Every day 4,000 kids under 18 have their first cigarette.

"If we want to live in a healthy country, we have to do a better job," she said. Miami-Dade is one of two Florida counties receiving grants. Orange County (Orlando) will get $6.6 million for tobacco prevention.