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Boston partnering with Weight Watchers to help city lose weight

Posted by Emily Files  November 28, 2012 04:57 PM

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By Adam Sennott, Globe Correspondent

Boston is watching its weight as part of a new partnership to fight obesity.

The city announced Tuesday it is teaming with Weight Watchers to promote healthy eating habits in three Boston communities with high rates of obesity – Dorchester, Mattapan and East Boston.

Weight Watchers will be offering discounted membership to 1,000 members of Dorchester House Multi- Service Center, Mattapan Community Health Center, and the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center who participate in weight loss and weight management services.

The pilot program is part of Mayor Menino’s initiative, Boston Moves for Health. The pilot will start in January, according to a press release by the City of Boston announcing it. Participants must be referred to the program by a participating health center.

While Weight Watchers would not disclose the exact discount that members of the three participating health centers would receive, Daniel Boockvar, Weight Watchers senior vice president of US operations said the regular $10 monthly fee would be “vastly discounted.” He declined to elaborate. City employees who participate are eligible for a lesser discount, 10 percent, Boockvar said.

The program is especially important to Dorchester House because the neighborhood has one of the highest obesity rates, Walter Ramos, president and CEO of the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center, said.

“I think this program is extremely important,” he said. “Obesity is a national problem, but we’re not immune to it in Boston, and in Dorchester in particular. Boston has an obesity rate of 19.2 percent, and Dorchester has a 27 percent [rate], so our rate is higher than the remainder of the city. It’s extremely important for us to work on this national issue here in Dorchester.”

Along with the City of Boston, the Boston Red Sox also recently partnered with Weight Watchers, said Dr. Charles Steinberg, senior advisor to Red Sox President Larry Lucchino. At a press conference announcing the new program, Steinberg brought a poster board of Wally the Green Monster illustrating Wally’s weight gain.

“Even Wally needs to get out and run more,” Steinberg said. “I wonder if there’s a Weight Watchers for mascots.”

Also present was Cambridge-born comedian and actor Lenny Clarke, who used the poster board while speaking to the crowd. Clarke said Weight Watchers had helped him lose 188 pounds. Today, Clarke says he skis, surfs, and paddleboards, none of which he could do before. “When you’re 400 pounds there’s not a lot of surf boards that will hold you up,” he said.

“It’s changed my life, it really has,” added Clarke, who weighed 388 pounds when he started the Weight Watchers program. “I had a lot of health problems. My knees were bad, my back was bad. I was on all sorts of medications …. It’s just changed everything for me.”

Ramos said he’s hoping patients at Dorchester House will have a similar experience with Weight Watchers. If so, he added, it could lead to reduced rates of Diabetes 2, which is related to weight gain.

“We’re looking to change some of those numbers in the long run, but I think that initially, right now, we’re trying to change behavior.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong birthplace for comedian Lenny Clarke. He was born in Cambridge.

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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