Do-Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changers: Cambridge in Motion

Dawn Olcott. Photo by Jessica Blough.

Cambridge in Motion wants to make being healthy easy and accessible for everyone. And by everyone, it means everyone, from elementary schoolers who want to see their family recipes in the cafeteria to older adults looking to make their commutes more eco-friendly.

The Public Health Department initiative is part of the Mass in Motion program, meaning that Cambridge and 60 other communities in Massachusetts receive a statewide grant aimed at “increasing opportunities for healthy eating and active living in the places we live, learn, work, and play,” according to the Mass in Motion website.

Cambridge in Motion began in 2011, and it “works on a level of policy systems and infrastructure changes,” according to Dawn Olcott, manager of public health nutrition services for Cambridge. Olcott works alongside a program specialist and a nutritionist to develop initiatives or choose programs to support.

“The whole point is to make the healthy choice the easy choice for people, and for us—for residents and everyone who lives, works, goes to school, plays in Cambridge,” Olcott says.

One way that Cambridge in Motion does this is through its work in cafeterias and food service in Cambridge public schools. Building on the work that the public health department began in 2005, Cambridge in Motion has assisted schools in installing salad bars, expanding their healthy menu options, and starting a farm-to-school program.

“And that way, when they have a new healthy dish on the menu, that makes the food available to every student within the Cambridge public schools. So with one dish, or new salad bars in all the cafeterias, that makes healthier food available throughout the population,” Olcott says.

Olcott adds that Cambridge in Motion is looking for family recipes to inspire additions to the cafeteria menus so that offerings can be more reflective of Cambridge culture. Recipes can be sent to

“The students are from many places around the world, either in the current generation or previous generations, and represent so many wonderful culinary offerings, and we’re looking to make the school lunches, school breakfast menus more reflective of wider Cambridge culture,” Olcott says. “It’s a way to make children and their family cultures be recognized and valued.”

Cambridge in Motion’s efforts expand outside schools as well. For example, the SNAP Match Coalition program offers matching funds to SNAP shoppers at farmers markets, so SNAP shoppers can double their spending ability on fresh and local foods. Its Healthy Markets Program helps local stores promote healthy food options, and Cambridge in Motion is working with the city council to expand urban farming and beekeeping.

As part of its focus on active living, Cambridge in Motion supports the Safe Routes to School program, which provides hands-on training for public school students on how to bike to school. Cambridge in Motion has also developed a guide for cycling as an older adult.

Many of the programs that Cambridge in Motion supports are in response to demands from the community. The city did a community health assessment in 2014 that informed a five-year community health improvement plan, which will be reviewed and renewed this fiscal year.
The assessment helped identify healthy eating and active living as priority areas for the public health department.

Cambridge in Motion also reviews health surveys from public schools to help chart its programs.

“We’re always looking at the data from [the surveys],” Olcott says. “What’s that telling us? What are the directions we need to go in? We really try to identify the needs. And then also, what are people asking for? And where does that intersect? How can we better meet people’s needs for healthy eating and being?”

In the future, Olcott hopes Cambridge in Motion can expand its impact on the community and become integral to healthy living efforts in the city.

“I would love to see Cambridge in Motion be an integrated part of most city programs and city activities, so that when there’s an eating occasion or physical activity is being discussed or expanded, the people are really thinking about how do we make that healthy choice, the easy choice for the people that we’re serving, so that everybody in Cambridge has access to healthy food and the ability to be fit.” Olcott says. “I really think we’re on track for that.”

This story appears in the Sept/Oct print issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Cambridge (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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