The Health Section

Sixteen communities work to increase physical activity, access to healthy food

From creating community gardens and walking paths to educating residents on healthy behaviors, 16 cities and counties in Southeast United States are working to create healthier communities. And they’re doing it with the help of Aetna. The company is involved in a unique partnership to help 50 cities and communities in the country implement changes to address various health issues and create a healthy community for residents.

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 collaboration 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.

Here are the finalists from Southeast United States:

Live Healthy Little Havana — Miami, Florida

Funded by the Health Foundation of South Florida and coordinated by the City of Miami, Live Healthy Little Havana is aiming to strengthen the community’s ability to plan and execute programs that will improve health in an area that is home to over 73,000 residents. The program will work with the housing, transportation and education sectors to bring long-lasting solutions and resources to the community.

Tallahassee iGrow Enhancement and Expansion — Leon County, Florida

With over 286,000 residents, officials are hoping the Tallahassee iGrow Enhancement and Expansion project addresses pockets of food source inequality. Officials will increase food sources and continue to improve what is currently underway in the Southside and Frenchtown communities.

Healthy St. Pete Empowering Change — St. Petersburg, Florida

Many adults in St. Petersburg are consuming less than five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. The project, which will unite University of Florida FIAS Extension, All Children’s Hospital, American Heart Association and the Florida Department of Health, addresses health behaviors and built environment within St. Petersburg.

Garden Steps — Hillsborough County, Florida

Food deserts and walkability are two key issues in Hillsborough County. The Garden Steps project consists of creating community gardens with pedestrian and bicycle access in identified food deserts. Officials hope the project will improve health equity and population health by increasing easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Healthy Policy for a Healthy Savannah — Savannah, Georgia

The Healthy Policy for a Healthy Savannah will align local efforts and diverse resources to tackle social determinants both citywide and in west Savannah. Made up of organizations from numerous sectors, the project will increase collaboration and resource sharing. The project will provide access to healthy food and physical activity.

The West Louisville Outdoor Recreation Initiative — Louisville, Kentucky

The project aims to build a culture within Louisville for low-income, urban residents to connect to nature. The project consists of three phases. Phase 1 will be to plan for a nature-based educational and recreational environment that addresses the root causes of poor health outcomes and provides an environment that promotes health equity. Phase 2 leverages local, state and national partnerships building community relationships and the capacity of residents to engage in recreational activities. Phase 3 involves implementing environmental changes by creating an outdoor infrastructure.

Be Well, B’more Wellness Campaign — Baltimore, Maryland

With over 621,000 residents, there are wide gaps in health and wellness between low-income and high-income communities in Baltimore. Serving predominately poor, African American and Hispanic residents of all ages, the Be Well, B’More Wellness project focuses on 11 zip codes with the greatest disparities in health and wellness. The project will provide support and resources for increased physical activity.

Feed the Seed Challenge — Gulfport, Mississippi

With many Gulfport adults consuming less than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, the Feed the Seed Challenge will connect community gardening, nutrition education and grower’s markets. The youth in Gulfport will have opportunities to motivate their school population and community toward healthy food choices. They’ll also work with teachers to include gardening activities in curriculum. Officials believe the project will engage youth, families and all community members in activities around a community garden and teaching kitchen to increase knowledge, access and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Leveraging Partnerships Built Through the Comprehensive Plan — Chatham County, North Carolina

The Chatham County Public Health Department and Chatham Health Alliance are working together to target obesity. A comprehensive plan will be developed and include a “health in all policies” approach to encourage health behaviors in numerous aspects of life in Chatham County.

Davidson County Healthy Communities — Davidson County, North Carolina

The Davidson County Healthy Communities program will address eating and physical activity in the area, where many adults are consuming less than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day and reporting low levels of physical activity. A project coordinator will seek support and leverage resources from other community partners and coordinate all aspects of the project. Strategies based on local policy, environmental and system initiatives will be implemented to support the community. Local convenience stores and vendors will be encouraged to sell produce to increase the number of venues using locally grown healthy food.

Other programs will include “Active Routes to School,” recruiting companies to adopt breastfeeding policies and improving the number of restaurants that use menu labeling, which would include nutrition information.

North Carolina Healthiest Challenge Initiative — Durham and Cabarrus Counties, North Carolina

Partnering with various organizations and stakeholders, including Duke University School of Medicine and Duke University, the North Carolina Healthiest Challenge Initiative will address population health and payment reform. Officials want to improve community health and health equity through addressing nutrition and food insecurity, as well as physical activity, tobacco use and integrating physical activity “prescriptions” into clinical care. The group will also be piloting a health care delivery and payment reform through community health workers.

Village HeartBEAT (VHB) — Mecklenburg County, North Carolina

The VHB program is working to reduce the incidence of heart disease in several Public Health Priority Areas throughout Mecklenburg County. Program officials will target faith communities and hope to engage 24,000 congregation members and 6,000 community residents. The project will not only expand the number of participating faith communities, but also enhance the network of partner organizations, connect members to community-based social services and provide training for 600 “Health Ambassadors” to create policy changes and promote healthy behaviors within their respective communities.

Healthy Schools & Healthy Communities Initiative — Spartanburg County, South Carolina

Healthy School & Healthy Communities is collaborating with Road to Better Health to partner with nine schools and four municipalities. The project will work to create a healthy environment in schools that encourages and supports healthy eating and physical activity for students, staff and families. Healthy Communities will provide residents with safe and easy opportunities to be physically active and engage employers to create a workplace culture that supports better health.

Health Collaborative Action Plan — Danville Pittsylvania, Virginia

Action teams will be created to address four different health areas in Danville: healthy eating, active living, access to health care and cross-cutting approaches. The goal of the project is to create a holistic approach for removing barriers to achieving health equity for all residents. A 10-year plan was drafted to improve health equity, social determinants and health impact with the Dan River region.

Wellness Warriors: Integrating Nutrition and Exercise into Richmond’s Public Housing Communities — Richmond, Virginia

Many adults in Richmond are consuming less than five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and reporting low levels of physical activity. To address this, the Richmond City Health District will create public housing-based resource centers. The centers will serve as a hub, where residents are connected with fun, culturally appropriate, healthy physical activities and local food access programs.

A Mountaineer Community Collaborating to Improve Safety and Well-being — Morgantown, West Virginia

Substance abuse, violence and poverty are factors affecting the safety and well-being of residents in the Greater Morgantown area. West Virginia and Monongalia County struggle with poverty, health care coverage, lack of care and rehabilitation for individuals with mental illness, accessible nutritional support and substance abuse. The project is continuing the efforts of Monongalia County, Morgantown and West Virginia University. Efforts will be focused on food insecurity, mental illness, violence, pedestrian injuries and improving local programs that address these issues.

Read more about the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge finalists in the West, Midwest, Southwest and Northeast.