OCEAN CITY – The Town of Ocean City is on track to building a healthier community in the new year after working on two initiatives as part of its Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) campaign.
Since joining this nationwide campaign over the summer, city officials and partners at the Worcester County Health Department and Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) have worked together to apply worksite wellness and healthy vending initiatives in town.
Kate Gaddis, recreational superintendent for Ocean City’s Recreation and Parks Department, said both initiatives, which come out of her department, are teaching both residents and employees about healthy food options and activities.
Last month, officials installed a vending machine at Northside Park that gives visitors color-coded snack options, according to Gaddis. The green-colored snacks, labeled “Go”, can be eaten anytime and contain 0-139 calories and less than four grams of fat. Yellow-colored snacks, labeled “Slow,” should be eaten sometimes and contain 140-270 calories and 4-17 grams of fat. Red-colored snacks, labeled “Whoa,” should be eaten once in a while and contain more than 270 calories and more than 17 grams of fat.
“So many kids and families are coming through there,” she said. “We thought maybe people would take advantage of that option.”
Gaddis calls the healthy vending initiative, funded by Ocean City Recreation Boosters and the health department, a success and said many of the green-colored snacks, such as veggie straws, are selling out.
“It’s the little things that will make for a healthier community,” she said.
Gaddis said the campaign has worked closely with intern Bobbi McDonald, a graduate student from Salisbury University who reach out to the department after hearing of Ocean City’s HEAL campaign.
Director Susan Petito said McDonald took charge of aspects within the worksite wellness initiative, which teaches employees work exercises and healthy recipes.
Gaddis said the department began offering a “Lunch and Learn” series last month and have invited officials from AGH and the health department to host monthly lessons on topics such as diabetes, chair exercises, posture positions and meal preparation.
McDonald, in turn, was then tasked with sending recipes and health tips to participating employees.
The ongoing program, Gaddis said, measures its success through attendance and a series of surveys sent to participating employees before, during and after the lessons.
Gaddis said the quantitative feedback received from both the healthy vending and worksite wellness initiatives will help them prepare a healthier program in the new year.
“Nationwide there is an obesity crisis, and it has been getting worse,” Petito said. “Any agency and any location in the state of Maryland or elsewhere have an obligation of stepping up and looking out for children and adults. Where else better than right here?”
Beginning in January, Petito said the department will have a new intern, another graduate student from Salisbury University, who will continue to build upon the initiatives established last month.
Ocean City is one of 32 towns in Maryland to partake in the mid-Atlantic HEAL campaign, a program established by the Institute for Public Health.
The town’s three initiatives include worksite wellness, healthy vending options, and biking and walking paths.
Although the town currently has no formal trail system, Gaddis said the Green Team committee is working to establish a path system in 2017.
“The program is very new, and a lot of it is still in the planning and brainstorming stage,” Gaddis said.