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People exercise to live healthier lives. (Courtesy photo)

Darleesha Taylor knows well the challenge of getting in shape and staying in shape.  The Northwest resident has spent the better part of her childhood fighting obesity – weighing nearly a hundred pounds while still in kindergarten.

Though she remains introverted and shy around strangers, Taylor said she has used both Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign and Mayor Muriel Bowser’s FitDC programs to lose more than 82 pounds.

Taylor, now 22, took part in the Bowser’s July 11th FitDC Walk through Ward 5 and was excited she could keep a steady pace among the other residents.

“There are a lot of big girls and heavy boys in D.C. and I always took it for granted that so long as I was healthy, my size did not matter,” Taylor said.  “But I had to get honest with myself because little things started to be a struggle – like having to walk up the escalator from the platform in the Metro station and feeling like my heart was going to give out before I could get to the top.”

According to a 2014 report on the State of Obesity by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, from 2011-2012 approximately 47.8 percent of African American adults were obese. During that same time period, 35.1 percent of African American children, between the ages of two to 19, were also considered obese. In both cases African American overweight and obesity rates were higher than Whites.

Taylor, whose weight reached the 300 pound mark on her 5-foot-3 inch frame back in 2012, had a few setbacks, but said community exercise classes and programs helped her take the initial small steps.

“Michelle Obama was talking about exercising while sitting in front of the television, which appealed to me,” laughed Taylor, who said she felt embarrassed joining a fitness center with people who already looked to be in shape.  “I didn’t want to be laughed at and so I rode the stationary bike while I watched Scandal and the FLOTUS was right; the weight started coming off and I felt better about myself.”

With her total weight loss goal of 115 pounds now firmly in view, Taylor feels comfortable joining Bowser’s Ward Walks for the camaraderie.

Launched in April 2015 Bowser’s FitDC offers a comprehensive health and wellness initiative that encourage residents to live a healthier lifestyle by linking them to nutrition and physical fitness resources in their communities.  The initiative, reaching all eight wards of the city, is led by the D.C. Department of Health (DOH) and the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR).

“This initiative will educate, encourage and challenge our residents to own their personal health and wellness knowing there are resources and programs in their city offering support along the way. Healthy and active lifestyles are critical to creating sustainable pathways to the middle class,” Bowser said at its launch.

The Ward Walks coincide with FitDC’s Billion Step Challenge, which provides Ward coaches, city officials, and other community partners with necessary tools to direct residents to free health trails, recreation centers, activities, and services in their own backyards. The campaign goal includes walking 3 miles, or 6,000 steps, three times a week – in addition to changing the health outlooks of residents like Taylor.

The city’s progress toward one billion steps can be checked regularly and more information about FitDC activities is available at fitdc.com