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Published June 10, 2013, 11:30 PM

Moorhead enrolls in healthy food vendor program, but not without dissent

MOORHEAD – After a lengthy debate, the City Council here approved enrolling the city in a federal program that encourages healthy eating options at city-owned food vendors.

By: Erik Burgess, INFORUM

MOORHEAD – After a lengthy debate, the City Council here approved enrolling the city in a federal program that encourages healthy eating options at city-owned food vendors.

The “Let’s Move! Cities, Towns, and Counties” program was launched in June 2010 by Michelle Obama, and it helps local elected officials address policy and environmental factors that contribute to childhood obesity, according to Moorhead council documents. Fargo began participating in the program earlier this year.

The Moorhead School District, Clay County Public Health and Moorhead Park Advisory Board have all signed off on the initiative, which would encourage the sale of healthier food options at city concession stands, but the council was not so quick to give it the OK on Monday night.

After a few amendments, it passed 5-3, with Councilmen Mike Hulett, Steve Gehrtz and Luther Stueland voting against the measure.

Some council members said they were worried that the federal government would be mandating what foods could and couldn’t be sold at city stands. Hulett argued that the council shouldn’t be “responsible” for the health of the citizens.

“We’re responsible for their safety,” he said. “But to get into their daily eating habits and what they can and can’t provide for their kids, gosh, to me that’s a real overreach.”

City staff at the meeting said the program would not be a federal mandate and that it just provides guidelines, but some council members were still wary. Councilwoman Brenda Elmer offered an amendment that changed the resolution to explicitly say that by approving of the program the council would “encourage” but not require that vendors at city events offer healthier food options.

The initiative also suggests, but does not mandate, that the council form an obesity task force.

Councilwoman Nancy Otto called approving the program “logical” and said parents want to see healthier food options at city recreational activities.

“I think there’s absolutely nothing wrong with offering healthy choices. I think most restaurants, even fast-food restaurants, have gotten that message already,” she said. “Let’s get with the times.”

Holly Heitkamp, Moorhead’s recreation division manager, said many youth activities have already begun to implement healthier food options at the request of parents, but some of the adult recreational activities have been wary about the changes. One concern they’ve had is that the healthier food won’t be eaten and will be wasted, Heitkamp said.

Rory Beil, director of the Cass Clay Healthy People Initiative, said Moorhead was likely already doing fairly well in three of the five “Let’s Move!” categories, like providing healthy school breakfasts lunches, and that joining the program could give the city recognition for those strides with bronze, silver and gold medal statuses, which could attract young professionals looking to move into “young, active” communities.

The dissenting council members agreed that the goal of the program was a good one, but they believed it could be done locally without the help of a federal program.

“It’s not like we’re all going to be wearing that medal up here,” Gehrtz said.

But Elmer argued that the program is recognizable across the nation and would be easier to market than a local program to potential new homeowners.

“It’s one more tool to market our community that’s consistent,” she said.