Stimulus money to help build healthier Hub

Boston has received $12.5 million in federal stimulus funding for a sweeping new effort to combat obesity and reduce smoking, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said yesterday.

Menino said the money, which would be spent over a two-year period, would be “a significant down payment on making Boston the healthiest city in America.’’

The city has a goal of reducing obesity rates by 20 and 30 percent in adults and children. respectively, over the next five years, and closing the gap between blacks and Latinos and whites.

“This funding will help us move closer to that goal and aid our citywide effort to reduce tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure,’’ Menino said in a statement. The mayor announced the funding at the John D. O’Bryant African-American Institute at Northeastern University.

Boston is one of 44 communities awarded funding under a national program. A total of $372 million in prevention grants has been awarded nationwide. The money will go toward, among other things, creating additional space for community gardens, expanding bike-share programs, and beefing up antismoking campaigns.

According to the city, data analyzed by the Boston Public Health Commission show that 32 percent of black adults and 30 percent of Latino adults in Boston were obese in 2008, compared with 17 percent of white adults. Boston Public Health Commission data on tobacco also show a concentration of tobacco dealers in low-income minority neighborhoods, especially Dorchester, Roxbury, and East Boston.

“The point of this work is to increase our structural capacity and change attitudes in ways that afford all Boston residents the opportunity to live healthy lives, whether that’s drinking less soda, biking or walking to work or school, or living in a smoke-free residence,’’ Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said in a statement.

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