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Welcome to 'Let's
S.H.A.P.E. Hamilton'

John Bencivengo
By John Bencivengo
Mayor, Hamilton Township

The dinner table was the focal point for my family when I was growing up. That’s where we laughed, talked about the day’s events and shared stories.

And because it was an Italian household, the table was usually covered with plates of pasta and loaves of warm bread.

Now, I realize that more than fond memories followed me into adulthood. Over time, it’s become clear that the hearty eating I grew up with isn’t always the best idea.

Changing a lifetime of habits isn’t easy, but I’m doing it.

I am eating a more balanced diet, losing weight and reducing my risk for future health issues, including high blood pressure, diabetes and heart problems.


I believe that as the leader of Hamilton Township (Mercer), I should do more than change my eating habits. I should also set an example and encourage others to do it.

That’s why I have committed Hamilton, a community of about 92,000 residents, to a program called “Let’s S.H.A.P.E. Hamilton.’’ It is a yearlong effort that we kicked off at our annual SeptemberFest celebration in collaboration with a nationally renowned health care facility located right here in Hamilton, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Hamilton, and the RWJ Hamilton Center for Health & Wellness, as well as Capital Health, St. Francis Medical Center, the Hamilton YMCA, our Hamilton Township Health Department and Champion Fitness Center.

The goal is to have residents commit to losing a combined 100,000 pounds within a year. I would like to lose at least 25 pounds myself.

According to the National Institutes of Health, the economic burden of obesity is at least $100 billion annually. Chronic disease and conditions related to obesity and inactivity account for more than 75 percent of the $2 trillion spent annually on medical care in the United States.

Registering people for the Let's SHAPE Hamilton program
Hamilton Township Public Heatlh Nurse Lisa Auletta signs up a township resident for the Mayor’s “Let’s S.H.A.P.E. Hamilton” program during Septemberfest. Assisting are Hamilton Township Public Heatlh Nurses Anita Masiello (sitting) and Jill Belviso (standing).

Statistics show that more than half of Americans are overweight, and more than 30 percent are considered obese. In fact, according to data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, obesity rates increased in 28 of the 50 states last year.

In fact, according to Dr. Jeffrey Levi, the executive director of the Trust for Americans’ Health, who wrote the obesity report with the RWJ Foundation, “Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges the country has ever faced, and troubling disparities exist based on race, ethnicity, region, and income.”

I get even more concerned when I see the data regarding children. It’s positively alarming. Federal statistics show that about one in four overweight children shows early signs of Type II diabetes, and roughly 60 percent exhibit risk factors for heart disease.

By combining old-school know-how about nutrition and exercise with the latest in technology, I fully intend to help my township collectively improve our health and wellness.

After being examined by health care professionals, participants in “Let’s S.H.A.P.E. Hamilton’’ will have the opportunity to take part in wellness-related events throughout the year and monitor their progress on a new, password-protected, secure web site: The site will, among other things, maintain a running tally of our accumulated weight loss.

The exciting part of this is to see that you lost weight. Being able to check into that web site on a regular basis should serve as encouragement for the participants. Believe me, I know how difficult it will be to remain committed in the long term for some people, with all the temptations we have in our fast-food society. But I am confident that many residents will benefit from this program.

The web site will remind everyone that we are all in this together. You have to have that motivation. And this is not merely about dieting, which is a short-term thing; this is about a life-changing pattern of wellness.

The acronym S.H.A.P.E. stands for the key points of the program. S is for Screen for Health; H is for Healthy Weight, know what is healthy for you and work to achieve it; A is for Abstain from Smoking; P is for Physical Activity, at least 30 minutes daily; and E is for Eat Healthy Every Day.

I was inspired to start this program after attending a U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting earlier in the year, where I learned about a similar program in Oklahoma City.

According to the New Jersey League of Municipalities, about half of the state’s 566 municipalities over the last four years have participated in Mayors Wellness Campaigns, through proclamations, pledges, resolutions or programs.

In Mercer County, I know that other towns have taken stands in support of the national effort including East and West Windsor, Ewing, Hopewell borough and township, Hightstown, Lawrence, Pennington and Robbinsville.

Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo has his blood pressure checked at Septemberfest by Giovanna Guarraggi, a RWJ Hamilton community education clinical coordinator.

When we kicked off the program at SeptemberFest, we set up a Mayor’s Wellness Village that included RWJ Hamilton, Capital Health, St. Francis Medical Center, the Hamilton YMCA, the township health department and Champion Fitness Center.

In addition to providing information on numerous health issues, including breastfeeding, cardiology, cancer, and diabetes, there were demonstrations of zumba, a high-energy, fitness-oriented Latin-style dance and exercise regimen.

Residents could ask questions of health care experts, have their blood pressure and weight checked, and sign up for the program.

Kathy Forman, manager of RWJ’s cardiac catheterization lab, and Annette Dillon, director of public health nursing for our township’s division of health, both said at the SeptemberFest that residents’ interest was high, with many people picking up brochures and signing up for the program.

And SeptemberFest was not the only public event serving as a magnet for “Let’s S.H.A.P.E.’’ participants. During the year, there will be more health-related events that will serve as checkpoints for residents to monitor their progress.

Not only do I encourage residents to join the “Let‘s S.H.A.P.E.’’ program, I am hoping township employees will do so as well.
Lindsay Adams, general manager of the RWJ Hamilton Health & Wellness center, has said studies show that for every $1 spent on health care, the employer realizes a $3 return in a healthier, more productive work force.

So it’s all about better health, lower blood pressure and generally feeling better, and I encourage more people to join our effort.

Health is such an important factor in our daily lives. By starting this new program, I want to provide residents with a new opportunity to improve their own health and the collective wellness of our entire community.




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