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Cities, counties look to create healthier communities

Jul 11 2016

From coast to coast, six innovative cities and counties are demonstrating what communities can achieve when they work together. As early adopters of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge, these coalitions of city and county officials, consumer groups and many others are working together to improve the health of their communities. They’re driving down the number of violent incidents. They’re reducing a child’s risk of going to the hospital with asthma. They’re creating solutions for “food deserts,” and much more. They have also earned a $10,000 boost to start their respective projects for the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge.

As early adopters, the Innovator Cities and Counties will be given $10,000 to start their respective projects in their communities.

The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge is a partnership between the Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the National Association of Counties (NACo), in partnership with CEOs for Cities. The challenge will award $1.5 million in prizes to communities that show measurable improvements in health indicators and social determinants of health.

Over 400 applicants have started applications to be participants of the challenge and 50 finalists will be named in fall 2016. Here is what the six Innovator Cities and Counties are doing in their respective communities.

Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland officials are creating a community-based education program to decrease the rate of youths using cigarettes. The city’s residents that are currently smokers is higher than the national average.

The city recently passed “Tobacco 21,” a law that increased the minimum age to purchase cigarettes to 21 years old.

“‘Tobacco 21’ is a strategy to say to all stores and proprietors out there: you can’t sell to anyone under the age of 21,” said Notoya J. Walker Minor, chief of public affairs in the office of the mayor in Cleveland. The goal? To eliminate childhood teenage tendencies toward addiction by preventing them from even trying cigarettes.

Durham and Cabarrus counties, North Carolina

Officials from various departments in Durham and Cabarrus are working together to create healthy habits among their residents.

Several community programs were created to promote healthy eating, physical activities and preventative wellness education. A diabetes management program at Duke University is also building upon community collaboration to increase health outcomes.

“One of the things we want to work on is getting people to the point where they have good healthy eating habits, keep weight down, prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, exercises regularly and develop lifelong patterns that will help them gain the most life expectancy possible for their age group,” said William F. Pilkington, DPA, CEO and director of Public Health Cabarrus Health Alliance.

Kansas City, Kansas

Kansas City suffered one of its deadliest years in history in 2015, when 111 people were killed in acts of violence. Life expectancy can vary by 10 years depending on an area’s zip code. City officials believe treating the behavior of violence as a curable disease can result in the reduction of incidents of violence. A community initiative called “Aim4Peace” was created to reduce violence and increase resilience factors in the community.

Tracie McClendon-Cole, deputy director of the Kansas City Health Department, believes it is possible to change the flow and nature of conflict resolution. “Conflicts are inevitable, but when you actually have people who are on the ground, on the street, working dynamically with individuals to begin to calm situations, you have a better outcome,” she said.

New Haven, Connecticut

Residents, especially children, of lower income neighborhoods in New Haven experience higher rates of asthma. The city also has the highest rate of asthma hospitalizations in Connecticut.

City officials, as well as health professionals in the community, are working together to reduce the risk of asthma among children in low-income families through education. A local clinic in the city refers families with asthmatic children to existing sources in the community and works with them to control asthma with the use of an “action plan.”

The community also plans to offer a summer “Asthma Camp,” where children suffering from asthma can come together and participate in various activities.

San Diego, California

More than half of preventable deaths in San Diego county are due to lack of physical activity, limited access to fresh food and smoking.

County officials along with business and community leaders are working together as part of the Living Well Communities program to offer every resident the opportunity to live safely and achieve better health. For example, the group created a community garden to give residents an alternative to fast food. Local residents pick and sell fresh produce from the garden.

“We want a safe, healthy environment and it’s got to start with an environment that welcomes this,” said Barry Pollard, founder and executive director of the Urban Collaborative Project.  Pollard cited lighted streets help deter crime and traffic management measures so kids can walk across the street safely.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

City officials in Tulsa have recognized the food desert issue, where some residents may not have access to healthy produce because of where they’re living. Food deserts can lead to unhealthy diets in entire communities. Community gardens help solve these problems. In Tulsa, locally grown food is sold from mobile grocery stores.

While officials are hoping to provide more opportunities to access fresh food, they also hope their efforts will encourage neighborhoods to begin working together to help one another.

“If you’re healthy, you’re happy,” said Dr. Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department. “We want people to embrace the notion of, ‘I’m going to do what it takes to be healthy. I’m going to be physically healthy and eat right and I’m going to be a part of the solution.'”