other considerations, rather than being the primary reason behind a policy decision.
Accountability and constituent contacts are important inputs for local policy makers. In Minneapolis, the fact that the obesity rate is 1 of 20 indicators measured and reported on annually helps spur action and call attention to the issue. Local officials heed even relatively small numbers of phone calls or e-mails from voters in favor of or against an issue.
Planning committee member Mary Story, Professor in the School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, moderated this panel. The panel’s three elected representatives articulated a clear role for local governments in obesity prevention efforts in various ways. According to Fairfax City Council member Daniel Drummond, local governments can promote healthier living by supporting needed infrastructure, offering recreational and other programs, and encouraging citizen involvement. Arlington County Board member J. Walter Tejada elaborated on how local zoning and other regulations can encourage smart growth, which in turn translates to amenities such as sidewalk connectivity and transportation options. George Leventhal, Montgomery County Council member, also favors an active role for county government, but noted some pitfalls in pressing for strong policies, including pushback from some constituents and even from the school system, which has other priorities.
The panel’s appointed officials also shared valuable perspectives on the role of evidence in policy making. Benjamin Thomases, New York City Food Policy Coordinator, observed that costs (including political costs) play an important role in determining how much evidence is needed before a policy moves forward. Gretchen Musicant, Minneapolis Health Commissioner, discussed the many types of evidence policy makers consider as much or more than scientific data. Finally, Pierre Vigilance, Director of the District of Columbia Department of Health, urged exposing a wide range of stakeholders to the evidence so they understand the public safety, educational, and fiscal impacts of obesity.
Mr. Drummond focused on how Fairfax City is trying to increase physical activity and fight obesity by supporting recreation for youth and families. Fairfax City is a small jurisdiction (a population of 23,000 within 6.3 square miles) surrounded by much larger Fairfax County. It has made a significant investment in parks and recreation, spending $3.5 million annu-