Top Honors Given to Westwood, Highland Park; Healthy Town Designations Also Awarded to Oradell, Freehold, Beachwood

The New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute has named Westwood and Highland Park 2017 New Jersey Healthy Towns by the Mayors Wellness Campaign (MWC), a program of the Quality Institute, in partnership with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.  The awards will be presented to township leaders with commemorative signs. Oradell and Freehold Township have been named 2017 Healthy Towns to Watch. For the second year in a row, Beachwood has won the MWC Continued Excellence Award.

This is the 11th consecutive year the MWC Healthy Town designation has recognized mayors and communities for promoting health and wellness activities conducted in the past calendar year. The Healthy Town designation recognizes mayors and communities that have worked creatively to engage residents in health and wellness activities that improve health knowledge and practices for youth, seniors, employees, and the overall community.

“These awards highlight the role of mayors in driving low- to no-cost health and wellness initiatives to improve the lives of the residents of their communities,” said Linda Schwimmer, President and CEO of the Quality Institute, in congratulating the winners. “From healthy corner stores and workplace wellness initiatives to aging and wellness programs and dance classes, mayors are leading the way toward better health and fitness in their cities and towns.”

The MWC began in 2006 in partnership with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities to leverage local leadership to prioritize health and wellness in communities statewide. Today, the MWC has grown to over 396 municipalities – two-thirds of the 565 municipalities in the state. MWC recently added a new tools and resources section to its website for mayors and their staff members, to help make starting a program easy and effective. The new tools and resources page allows users to customize their search for tools by the season, and by the population they are trying to reach. The new page is available at

Westwood, 2017 Healthy Town Winner

Westwood identified obesity, sedentary lifestyles, and information about health and wellness as top concerns among residents. “As a former athlete, and as a husband and father, I understand the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle,” said Mayor John Birkner, Jr. “My goal for the Mayors Wellness Campaign is to bring opportunities for all facets of wellness to our residents. I am excited to be able to partner with so many of our outstanding community groups, both public and private, to provide programming that will enhance and improve the overall quality of life for our participants.” The borough received the Healthy Town award for a variety of activities, including:

 Forever Young Program – A series of fitness and social activities designed for residents age 55 and older.  Family Fun Day – This event features outdoor games families can play to get active together.  Meltdown Challenge – The four-week weight loss challenge offers coaching support through daily emails to help create healthier habits.

In addition, residents could walk in Westvale Park with Mayor Birkner, and families with young children could join a Stroller Walking Program. About 500 residents participated in MWC programs last year. This year, the borough plans a six-week Wellness Challenge in conjunction with CHIP and HUMC of Pascack Valley, featuring health screenings, weigh-ins, and fitness events.

Highland Park, 2017 Healthy Town Winner

After being named a Healthy Town to Watch in 2016, Highland Park received the top award in 2017 for a variety of activities, including:

 Fitness with the Mayor – Residents join Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler for free weekly yoga sessions.
 Walking School Bus – Approximately 30 elementary school students walk to school with a designated parent, so they start the day with some exercise.  HP Gives a Hoot – The program, in partnership with local restaurants and Elijah’s Promise, has raised more than $15,000 to provide healthy lunches to children when school is not in session.

 Buddy Ball – The weekly sports program pairs special needs kids with teenage volunteers to ensure the kids get a chance to get active and have fun.

Additionally, the township has widened sidewalks and installed bike “sharrows” on Raritan Avenue, and plans to build more bike paths to encourage residents to walk or bike more. Main Street Highland Park partners with the MWC for the 5K Walk in the Park and other events, and the Arts Commission works with the MWC on art related fitness activities such as the Art Walk. Township programs attract hundreds of residents per year.

Other towns recognized:

Oradell, 2017 Healthy Town to Watch

Oradell’s Health Department works with Holy Name Medical Center to develop programs including blood pressure screening and blood tests, particularly for seniors. During a 12-week MWC fitness challenge, residents tracked their weight loss. Among people who weighed in at least twice during the challenge, the total weight loss was 487 pounds. Several residents later thanked the borough for running the program, because it helped them address medical issues they didn’t know they were developing.

“Our Wellness Campaign’s success is due to the commitment of Oradell’s residents to an overall healthier lifestyle through exercise, nutrition and mental health initiatives. This designation really belongs to them! I look forward to launching our next campaign on April 9, 2018, and hope to continue the success we had in 2017,” said Oradell Mayor Dianne Didio.

About 182 people participated in MWC activities last year, including:

 Mayor Walks – Residents have the opportunity to walk and talk with Mayor Dianne Didio.  Grocery store tours – Participants walk the aisles to get advice on nutrition and healthy eating.

Yoga and dance classes, cooking classes, and lectures by doctors and fitness professionals are available as well.

Freehold Township, 2017 Healthy Town to Watch

Top concerns in Freehold include sedentary lifestyles, chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and a lack of healthy eating strategies. To address these issues, free weekly yoga classes and a smoking-cessation program are offered to employees. Other activities include:

 Lunch with the Mayor Series – About 100 people participate in free “lunch and learn” programs about nutrition at the senior center.  Color Me Crazy – The Recreation Commission helped organize this 5K, which drew 350 runners and 100 volunteers last year.  February Fitness Challenge – Five elementary and two middle schools were challenged to try new physical activities and encouraged to track the number of minutes spent on physical activity through weekly logs.

Aside from the 5K, about 275 people participated in MWC programs last year. The township is also looking at ways to increase walkability in and around parks.

Beachwood, 2017 Continued Excellence Award

Beachwood was named a Healthy Town to Watch in 2016 and a Healthy Town winner in 2015 before receiving the first-ever Continued Excellence award last year. More than 1,000 people participated in MWC activities last year.

The community designs its activities to address its biggest health priorities, including childhood obesity, behavioral health, and chronic disease and education. Activities include:

 Beachwood Tennis Club – The kids program drew 49 participants last year, up from nine participants when it launched in 2014.  Beachwood Community Garden – Residents can grow their own produce in a pesticide-free garden lot, paying $25 for the season. Gardening tools and water are provided.  Dancing for Your Health – A program for seniors that encourages dancing as a way of keeping active.

In addition, cooking classes for kids to adults teach residents how to make healthy food choices, and yoga classes are held weekly on Beachwood Beach.

For more information on the MWC visit: or contact Deborah Levine at

About the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute

The New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute is the only independent, nonpartisan, multi-stakeholder advocate for health care quality in New Jersey. The Quality Institute’s mission is to undertake projects and promote system changes that ensure that quality, safety, accountability, and cost-containment are closely linked to the delivery of health care services in New Jersey.

About the Mayors Wellness Campaign

The Mayors Wellness Campaign is a program of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute in partnership with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. The program empowers mayors across New Jersey with tools, strategies, and support to champion health and wellness in their communities.