Mayor Cory A. Booker, the Newark Municipal Council, Deputy Mayor of Neighborhood Engagement Margarita Muñiz, Municipal Council President Donald M. Payne, Jr., Acting Director of the Department of Child and Family Well-Being L’Tanya Williamson, Newark Beth Israel Medical Center Director of Wellness Barbara Mintz, MS, RD,  Newark YMCA COO Michael Bright, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey Corporate Responsibility and Community Relations Director Jonathan Pearson, members of the Let’s Move! Newark Council and other community partners joined with Newark municipal employees for a press conference to launch the “Newark Beth Challenge”today, in the City Hall First Floor Rotunda. City Hall is located at 920 Broad Street.

“This is going to be a lot of fun and the mantra has to be no excuses,” said Mayor Booker, who added that obesity has become a national epidemic. “We in City government have to be the change that we want to see in the community. The issue is real. This is a crisis in our nation and city. Over 50 percent of our children are either overweight, obese, or grossly obese. This is eating at the potential of our City. We must be healthy for not only our fellow adults, but our children. Children may not listen to their elders, but they never fail to imitate them. We have to pull together as a community and a family to get this right.”

At the “Newark Beth Challenge” weigh-in, Mayor Booker registered at 279.6 pounds, 11 down from his Christmas 2010 high of 290 pounds. The Mayor has set a goal of losing 30 pounds by his birthday, which is April 27 and is also challenging others to join him in losing weight and leading a healthier lifestyle through his Facebook and Twitter accounts, where he reports his personal weight-loss progress on a daily basis.

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“Many of you have weighed in, registered and made the commitment to live healthier lifestyles,” said Deputy Mayor Muñiz, “We as adults, as leaders, mentors and caregivers, as fathers, mothers and family members, take on the responsibility to give our children a bright future and longer life spans, and we do so by setting the example, and taking the ‘Newark Beth Challenge’ individually and with accountability.”

“I have 12-year-old triplets and health issues of my own – diabetes and high blood pressure, and I want to walk my daughter down the aisle one day. So this program is personally important to me. It is important to our community, our families, our lives, and ourselves. It shows that our community can come together on things that really matter and are positive for this community,” said Council President Payne.

The “Newark Beth Challenge” is a successful weight loss program and contest designed by NBIMC, part of the Saint Barnabas Health Care System, that is now being offered to municipal employees to reduce their weight, improve their health and help then to achieve healthy changes in their lifestyle. The three-part, 12-week Weight Loss and Fitness Challenge includes education and fitness training, under the supervision of a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer from NBIMC. It will include one-on-one professional guidance on healthy food options and fitness, private weigh-ins and consultations, and a free 12-week gym membership for all participants. More than 200 Newark employees have signed up, forming 19 teams to lose weight.

“We are giving all municipal workers the education and resources needed to make healthier life decisions,” said John A. Brennan, MD, Executive Director of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. “With improved health, they will be able to accomplish their life and work goals even more effectively, and set an example for all New Jersey residents.”

“We are delighted to see that Mayor Booker and all of City Hall have taken good health to heart,” said Ms. Mintz. “They are setting a healthy example for the entire community.”

“We try to improve lives every day,” said Newark YMCA Chief Operating Officer Michael Gray. “We have seniors working to stay in shape, and youth learning to swim or dribble a basketball for the first time in their lives. We are trying to change the environment for youth today. And all of you, taking part in this program, are at the YMCA every day, trying to reach their greater health goals. You will receive support, guidance, and resources to achieve your goals.”

“I want to thank Mayor Booker for his great leadership in the City,” said Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey Corporate Responsibility and Community Relations Director Jonathan Pearson. “I am a son of Newark with deep roots in the City, growing up on Garside Street, so this is a proud day for me and our 4,700 employees. Many of them will take the challenge, too. Horizon has been here 78 years in Newark and we are proud to be part of the Newark Beth Challenge.” Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield partners with the YMCA on an anti-childhood obesity program that reaches out to more than 20,000 youth statewide.

“I am so proud to be a part of Mayor Booker’s and First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiative to create a healthy America. I have struggled with weight loss most of my adult life, often times lacking motivation and always making excuses for myself, until the mother of a veteran asked me to lose weight so that I can continue helping other veterans, as I did with her son. That was all of the motivation that I needed. Since that day seven months ago I have lost 70 pounds as a commitment to our troops and the veterans that have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. Always remember: no excuses, stop sucking it in and start sucking it up and let’s move,” said Jack Fanous, Executive Director, The G.I. GO Veterans Transition Center of Newark, who spoke at the ceremony.

At the ceremony, Mayor Booker recognized the teams that have been formed to lose weight. Some 19 teams have already been formed in various offices around the City, and a group of Police Officers, inspired by the event, formed another team on the spot.

“We called ourselves the ‘D’Elite Team,’” said Irene Fryer Alton, a Senior Analyst with the Department of Child and Family Well-Being’s Personnel Services Unit. “It means, ‘Delete Unnecessary Weight for a Healthier, Happier, Life.”

The team of four workers from the division is committed to “losing as much weight as we can, maintaining the weight loss, and living much healthier lives for the rest of the year,” she said. So far the group has changed its eating habits, discarding red meats in favor of fruits, vegetables, chicken, and fish, and has begun a regular Saturday morning team workout at the YMCA at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, working with their personal trainers.

“This is one of the most fantastic and innovative programs the City has done,” Ms. Fryer Alton added. “We need morale boosters, and we need to lose weight and to live longer.”

The classes and exercise programs will be held outside of working hours. Participants will also be given information about family diet and exercise plans. Other key partners in the initiative include the Newark YMCA and the Colosseum Gym. A contest for the largest percentage of weight loss will be included. Contestants can enter as individuals and/or teams.  The first 12-week program began on Monday, January 31, 2011.

The health and well-being of Newark’s residents is a priority for the Booker Administration. At his Fourth Annual State of the City Address on February 9, 2010, the Mayor announced that he will serve as National Co-Chair of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to fight childhood obesity. These have included such programs as the “Super Healthy Summer,” the annual Newark Bicycle Tour, and public festivals like this year’s Festival de la Familia Latina, which focused on good health practices and nutritious eating. The City has also provided economic grants and loans to stores that sell fresh food, through the Brick City Development Corporation’s Fresh Foods Program and Small Grocer Initiative. The “Let’s Move Newark” campaign will promote healthy lifestyles, nutritious eating, and efforts to help obese people regain control of their health.