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Lynchburg health initiative attracts White House attention

Published On: Jul 03 2013 05:44:28 PM EDT   Updated On: Jul 03 2013 06:23:22 PM EDT
Michelle Obama


Three leaders of Lynchburg's "Live Healthy" initiative have been invited to an event with First Lady Michelle Obama in Washington next week


On a rainy summer day, the gym at Lynchburg's Jamerson Family YMCA is filled with people of all ages, working out and improving their heath.

The scene is exactly what Leslie Hoglund wants to see.

"I think people are starting to realize that health doesn't have to be hard and health doesn't have to be boring," said Hoglund, a senior health educator and public information officer for the Lynchburg Health Department. "There are easy ways to incorporate (exercise) in your daily routine and activity."

Hoglund promotes that message as part of a campaign called "Live Healthy Lynchburg." It was started last year by city council member, Joan Foster, as a way to attack an epidemic.

"Two thirds of adults in our community are overweight or obese," said Dr. Rachel Gagen, a pediatrician with F. Reed Hopkins Pediatrics in Lynchburg.

"Live Healthy Lynchburg" is fighting the obesity problem, through a variety of programs.

In public schools the initiative works to improve physical education and student lunches.

An effort called the "100 Mile Challenge," underway now, is being spearheaded by the business community to get employees moving throughout the summer.

Gagen published a book last year called "Lynchburg Legs," designed to get children excited about fitness.

"We've got lots of tentacles, reaching out into the community to try and promote health," said Gagen.

Word of Lynchburg's efforts has made it all the way to Washington.

Next week Foster, Gagen, and Hoglund will attend an event with First Lady Michelle Obama to promote fitness nationwide.

"It is overwhelming!" Hoglund said Wednesday. "I never in a million years thought I would be invited to the White House."

"Oh I just want to give her a hug!" Gagen said. "I just want to see her in person and let her know how much she has inspired me and so many other girls."

They're also anxious to share Lynchburg's success story.

In the 18 months since "Live Healthy" started, weight loss is improving and people are making a greater commitment to their health, but there's still work to be done.

"We have not made enough progress that we can rest on our laurels," said Gagen. "We really need to make this a huge priority."

The Lynchburg group will meet with Obama next Wednesday, July 10, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Hoglund and Gagen don't know if they will have the opportunity to speak with Obama, but they say simply being in the same room with the First lady will be a great honor.