Lecturing children on the benefits of regular exercise won’t necessarily change their sedentary habits, but creating pedestrian-friendly environments that support walking and other physical activity will.
That’s the message Mark Fenton, a public health consultant and associate professor at Tufts University in Boston, will bring to the Mahoning Valley early next month. Fenton will be the keynote speaker at the fifth annual Innovations conference, set for Tuesday, Nov. 6 at the Davis Center at Fellows Riverside Gardens. His topic is “What Ever Happened to Free Range Children?”
The annual conference, sponsored by the William Swanston Charitable Fund, an affiliate of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, aims to encourage new ideas for organizations that serve children throughout the Mahoning Valley.
“We all know that we and our children need to be more physically active,” Fenton said. “But telling them that isn’t really effective. What is effective is building environments that encourage walking and other physical activity. We need to change policies so that we have sidewalks in the right places and schools and parks that kids can walk to. Policymakers need to think about these issues when they make decisions.”
Fenton is the former host of “America’s Walking,” which used to air nationally on PBS stations. He is an adjunct associate professor at Tufts University’s School of Nutrition Science and also a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained engineer.
He will visit the Mahoning Valley in early November to drive and walk around parts of the community and talk about his findings in one of the Nov. 6 Innovations conference workshops.
Mahoning County Health Commissioner Patricia Sweeney, a member of the Swanston Fund board of trustees, said Fenton’s message is important for Mahoning Valley public officials and health leaders.
“We have a serious problem in the Valley with obesity,” Sweeney said. “A solution will require changes in many areas, and one we need to think about is the way our transportation systems are set up locally. We need more places to walk and be active.”
The Innovations conference runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 6, and admission is priced at $15 per person. Registration is required and can be done online on the Wean Foundation website or by phone at 330.744.5555.
Fenton’s workshop on implementing healthy community designs will be one of three workshops at the Innovations conference. Another, led by Heather McMahon, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, is titled, “Turning Great Ideas into Sustainable, Community-Driven Programs.” The other workshop, titled, “Using Evaluation to Tell Your Story and Improve Your Programming,” will be led by Dr. Rob Fischer, research associate professor at Case Western Reserve University.
In addition to the Swanston Fund, the sponsors of the event include the YSU College of Health and Human Services, Trumbull Memorial Health Foundation and Western Reserve Health Foundation.
The William Swanston Charitable Fund, established in 1919, seeks to help improve the lives of children in Mahoning and Trumbull counties. It provides grants each year that support early childhood education, anti-obesity measures, after-school programs, parent-involvement seminars, anti-bullying initiatives and many other efforts in support of local children. The Swanston Fund is an affiliate of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley.
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