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Obesity and smoking rates in Philadelphia are among the highest in the nation, but $25.4 million in federal stimulus grants and an aggressive public health campaign aim to change that statistic.

However, the stimulus grant may not directly affect Penn students, since Student Health Services already has well-established measures in place to address weight management and smoking cessation.

Last Friday, the city received almost seven percent of the $373 million granted nationwide by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in 2009.

Initiatives to reduce obesity levels include creating vouchers for half-priced fresh fruit and vegetables, encouraging bicycling and the use of public transit and forming media campaigns to promote healthy food choices.

Plans to address smoking include providing smokers with free nicotine-replacement therapy, such as patches or gum, expanding usage of “quitline” phone services and potentially implementing a local excise tax on tobacco products.

According to Robert Schnoll, an associate psychiatry professor who recently published an article on the efficacy of nicotine patches, “research does support the distribution of free nicotine-replacement therapy as an effective way to increase smoking cessation.”

However, Caryn Lerman, director of the Center for Interdiscplinary Research on Nicotine Addiction and a co-author of Schnoll’s study, noted that some smoking factors, such as genetic predisposition, are difficult to address with public health measures.

“Penn students do better with weight management when you compare them to the average American,” said Bon Appetit dietician Terri Brownlee, who provides nutrition consulting services to students.

Penn’s Student Health Service also offers specific nutritional counseling, which addresses issues such as high blood pressure and eating disorders, as well as how to eat healthily.

While Bon Appetit’s services at Penn “have not reached 100 percent on all our health initiatives because we’ve only been here for a year,” Brownlee said the company focuses both on providing clearly marked “balanced” meals as well as a “stealth” approach to making items such as pizza healthier without impacting flavor.

When she advises students about weight management, Brownlee strongly emphasizes consumption of fruits and vegetables to help cut calorie intake.

Approximately 15 percent of Penn students smoke, although “many of them will qualify that they’re social smokers,” said Susan Villari, director of SHS’s Department of Health Promotion and Education — formerly the Office of Health Education.

However, “most student smokers don’t need nicotine-replacement therapy,” she said. Instead, SHS offers a free smoking cessation program called WholeBreath, which includes behavioral counseling through alternative methods, such as meditation and stress management.

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