Community teams up to fight obesity
August 28, 2008 · Updated 10:52 AM
Healthy Communities Project unveils three-part action plan
MARYSVILLE The city of Marysville, in partnership with school, business, health care and nonprofit community leaders, took a huge first step in the fight against obesity and related chronic diseases when they recently unveiled the Marysville Healthy Communities Project Action Plan.
The Healthy Communities Project action plan, months in the making, is the blueprint for Marysville to become a healthier community, done through a smart, collaborative, community-based policy approach, Mayor Dennis Kendall said.
Our goal is to create an environment within our community that makes it easier for residents and visitors to be physically active and choose healthy foods, Kendall told some 40 members of the Healthy Communities Advisory Committee who attended the action plan unveiling on March 22.
The Advisory Committee members, some of whom have worked overtime on Leadership and Planning committees, and three subcommittees, have been working since April 2006 to lay the groundwork for the final action plan.
The citys priority areas for action are to increase:
the number of active community environments;
the amount of fruit and vegetable consumption and access to them;
access to and promotion of healthy foods at restaurants and businesses; and
the number of people who have access to low-cost or free recreational opportunities.
At the meeting, Donna Wright, Marysville City Council member and Chair of the Snohomish Health District Board of Health, introduced Dr. Gary Goldbaum, the Health Districts new Health Officer.
Goldbaum said obesity has reached epidemic among children and families across the nation and in Washington state.
We are a nation that is becoming more and more overweight, were doing less physical activity, we are making not such good nutritional choices and were paying a dear price, he said. Were not doing enough, not getting out enough, were not quite eating right, and (the Marysville Healthy Communities Project) is about to do something about that. I think thats quite extraordinary.
Goldbaums most striking remark came when he referenced an article in the New England Journal of Medicine published a few years ago, in which a group of economists and doctors conducted research which lead them to conclude that the current generation of youths life expectancy at birth will be even less than their parents.
Think about that. Go back generations 1700s, 1800s and 1900s every generation has been living longer than their parents, Goldbaum said. But we may be reversing that. This article called out a single cause, and that is obesity.
Goldbaum summarized, Its about doing the right thing, asking ourselves, How can we make better choices when we go out to eat? Are our neighborhoods really enticing us out to walk? Do we have other choices for physical activity?
After hours of meetings and brainstorming sessions, HC Committee members believe they have come up with an answer to these questions, which form the framework for the action plan.
Some highlights of the action plan include:
Establishing advisory groups that would explore ways to develop and fund pathways, parks and trails that would connect neighborhoods around Marysville to promote more walking and bicycling, in a safer manner.
Identify and select a neighborhood as a demonstration project site for the above.
Explore formation of Healthy Communities Zones with informational kiosks and connecting paths.
Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed by Marysville Food Bank participants.
Help the School District to register more eligible students for the free/reduced breakfast and lunch program.
Form a Community Gardens Planning Committee to research need, funding, supplies and resource development for community gardens, which would be educational, while also providing a source a locally-grown fruits and vegetables for the food bank and/or a future Farmers Market.
Keep informed about future public health policies and legislation concerning menu labeling in restaurants, and work with local restaurants to develop an incentive/awards program to recognize restaurants that promote healthier food choices.
Increase community ownership, involvement in, and use of public facilities by establishing an Adopt-A-Park Volunteer Program.
Increase the number of free and low-cost physical activity opportunities by, for example, setting up activity course in parks that encourage anytime physical activity, and providing more covered facilities.
Promote and encourage more intramural sports in schools and at work sites.
Marysvilles plan is consistent with the Washington States Nutrition and Physical Activity Plan. The vision is for residents to enjoy good nutrition, lead active lives and live in healthy communities.
Goldbaum lauded Marysville Healthy Communities, calling it his first community public event since taking over as the Districts top public health administrator just weeks ago.
Healthy Communities is exactly where I would like to see public health moving in every part of our county, Goldbaum said.
The action plan is a community-wide effort focused on developing and implementing a policy action plan that outlines specific strategies that will make Marysville a healthier community.
Eric Hatzenbuehler, Snohomish Health District Health Educator, has been serving as Coordinator and Facilitator of the Marysville Healthy Communities Project.
Instead of telling individuals how to eat healthier or exercise more, which is sometimes important, Marysville is taking the obesity discussion to a higher level by asking questions like how can we make it safer for Marysville residents go for a walk or bike ride, how can we make sure fruits and vegetables are available for those struggling to make ends meat, and how can we improve our parks and other recreation facilities, Hatzenbuehler said.
Marysville demonstrated enthusiastic initiative in identifying environmental changes in to promote better nutrition and increased physical activity.
The Health District chose Marysville last year as the pilot Snohomish County city to implement Healthy Communities.
Jim Ballew, Parks and Recreation Director, was the citys original standard-bearer to see that Marysville was chosen for Healthy Communities. We have come a long way. Now we need to have buy-in and involvement from community members, then implement the objectives and action items.
City Councilmembers Carmen Rasmussen, John Soriano and Donna Wright have been involved in the Healthy Communities process since its inception.
Marysville Healthy Communities has engaged the community by bringing together key individuals and organizations; completed a community assessment of the physical environment and gauged community attitudes; and developed a vision, priorities, objectives and an action plan for implementing these actions.
But being successful will depend on substantial involvement from community members willing to step up and join in bringing the policy and environmental changes to fruition, Kendall said.
Whats next? Community meetings in April and May to present the HC Action Plan, and a community celebration to promote HCs fitness and health actions is scheduled for later in the fall.
If you would like to become involved in the Healthy Communities Project through a committee that addresses one or more of these tasks, please call Ballew at 360-363-8400 or Hatzenbuehler at 425-339-8667.
This is not the end of the Healthy Communities Project, Mayor Kendall said. This is only the start. Weve got a long process ahead.