Mark Aselstine, guest contributor

Nearly every community in America has made getting our kids healthy a priority, as we’ve seen the continual rise in childhood obesity rates gain momentum over the past two decades.  While reasonable people can argue about the cause of this rise in childhood obesity, be it the rise of indoor games like video games, or a general lack of healthy food choices, what matters is that virtually everyone agrees that a continued rise in childhood obesity is one of the major issues facing this country.

I’m lucky to live in the community of Berkeley California, a highly urban area just east across the bay from San Francisco.  Berkeley is certainly known for many things, from our internationally recognized University, aptly named California, to being the center of the hippy movement in the 1970’s. What hasn’t received as much attention of late is Berkeley’s role as the American center for the slow food movement.  The concept is pretty simple, we should be cooking food more often than we eat fast food because of the nutritional quality as well as the cost.


It takes a village…

In Berkeley, eating healthy food has become something of a focus in the fight against childhood obesity.  Over the past few years, we’ve seen the city outlaw new fast food restaurants and encourage an even greater focus on Farmer’s Markets and other local food choices.  Since the city is highly urban, not everyone has the space and yard (if they have a yard at all, the average size of a single family home’s property is under four thousand square feet) to grow their own food, there has been a huge focus on the creation of community gardens and centralized places for people to grow their own food.

The county of Alameda had a program which provided close to three million dollars a year to allow gardening to happen at every school campus in the Berkeley School District.  Of course, as they often do, budget cuts ended that program and left a huge hole in its wake.  That’s where we can truly see the community’s commitment to the program, Alice Waters and her famous Chez Panisse Restaurant held a $2,500 per plate fundraiser, while other businesses donated 10% of their proceeds over a given month, raising the money to continue this important educational program which also provides lettuce and other fruits and vegetables for school lunches.



Making exercise accessible

Of course, no commitment to fight childhood obesity would work without the ability to encourage children to burn more calories through play.  We’ve all heard that most kids should have sixty minutes of free play per day, but how can that happen with the end of Physical Education in schools and a condensed school schedule which sends children home, sometimes without more than a fifteen minute recess?  In Berkeley, the answer has come again through community support and involvement.  Berkeley has certainly gone all in, so to speak, with National Night Out.  Held every year on August 6th, National Night Out encourages the blocking of streets to allow children and their parents to enjoy playing outside.  Additionally the city shuts streets on a rotating basis on weekends to allow children an easy place to play.


Creating healthy citizens through city planning

Of course, a weekly event hardly allows children a space to gain sixty minutes of play per day.  Berkeley has continued to focus on adding park space, but also in building bicycle boulevards which in essence give bicycle riders streets to themselves, encouraging the biking of place to place. With a city of about one hundred thousand all packed into a three by four mile area, giving families the ability to get from home to the grocery store as an example, without driving, is a worthwhile and achievable goal.  The city and its business backers are focusing on allowing children to gain part of their exercise through their regular daily schedules.

Thank you for taking the time to read about the city of Berkeley and its fight against childhood obesity.  It’s certainly a hard problem to solve and the solutions which Berkeley is finding aren’t perfect for all cities across the country, but with a large amount of community involvement and government backing, answers are out there.


Mark Aselstine is the owner of Uncorked Ventures, an online wine club and high end gift basket business.  With a toddler at home, the issue of childhood obesity is perhaps more important to him than many others, but he believes that with community involvement and smart, common sense solutions we can see improvements in the coming years.