In his latest “State of the City” Address, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola called for new efforts to end childhood obesity and violence among young African American males in the city. At the Centre at University Park Monday before several city leaders and community members, Stodola delivered his annual address, pointing out many of the city’s successes and several problem areas.
He said children in the city, especially in places where poverty is high, are suffering from high rates of obesity, which affect educational opportunities. Stodola said obesity rates must be faced “with urgency,” referencing Body Mass Index data collected in local schools. The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement shows that 38 percent of K-12 male students were obese or overweight, while 40 percent of K-12 female students in Little Rock were obese or overweight, he said.
“Here in the city we believe we are making some progress, but we must do better,” Stodola said.
Stodola said initiatives like the “Love Your School” intervention and prevention program, have helped students learn about nutrition. As part of the initiative, 7 participating schools will begin hosting farmers’ markets in the fall.
Stodola also devoted considerable time in addressing violence among African American males in Little Rock and said it should be of utmost concern for everyone in the city. Stodola called the violence an “epidemic.”
“Our highest responsibility is protecting the safety and prosperity of our communities and our people,” he said. “That means doing everything possible to prevent violence and finding additional ways to allow our young men and boys of color to invest in opportunities which engender self-worth, confidence and hope about the future.”
The mayor cited community initiatives in other cities like New Orleans and New York as examples Little Rock could follow in working to stop violence. He said every city department must devote efforts to stop violence and advocated for the creation of a city advisory group to deal with the issue.
So far in 2014, all 11 of Little Rock’s homicide victims have been African American, while all suspects in those cases are African American males. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the leading cause of death for African American males ages 15 to 34.
The mayor also touched on a number of other areas. He chastised Congress for its consideration of capping or possibly ending tax-exempt municipal bonds. He warned of public safety issues surrounding rail-based crude oil shipments, citing recent accidents in Quebec, North Dakota and Alabama.
In addition, the mayor praised recent infrastructure projects in various wards funded by revenue from a city sales tax increase passed by Little Rock voters in 2012. You can hear his entire speech below.