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With a dozen Healthy Communities initiatives currently underway throughout the state, the Department of Health team has created and refined a number of tools to help busy communities assess the health of their communities. Anyone can use these tools to access and summarize data. Assessments are the first step to changing policies and environments to make the healthy choice the easy choice.
The goal of Healthy Communities (HC) initiatives is to help local health jurisdictions build their capacity to address nutrition, physical activity and tobacco in an integrated approach. Obesity, inactivity and tobacco use are primary risk factors for chronic diseases. While public health professionals concentrated on separate risk factors in the past, the integrated approach of HC permits public health stakeholders to “work upstream” to prevent and reduce the incidence of chronic disease.
From 2002 to 2008 Healthy Communities efforts took place in Moses Lake, Mount Vernon, Kittitas County, Spokane and Puyallup that focused on nutrition and physical activity. The first cohort of the integrated HC implementation launched in 2009 and the second cohort began training in 2010 (read an update). For each of the counties currently involved in the HC initiatives, DOH developed an extensive workbook and training opportunities for site staff, in recognition of the essential role of data gathering for overall project success. While the HC team at the Department of Health has their hands full with the ongoing projects, they are also available to support other counties in their policy, systems and environmental change work.
By emulating the HC workbook, any jurisdiction can compile crucial information to inform planning and prioritizing for a more healthy community.
The first priority is to identify a set of core indicators for critical features of the built environment. In combination with Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) data available through the Centers for Disease Control, surveys of the built environment provide insights on opportunities and barriers to physical activity, nutrition and tobacco use. Some nutrition questions to consider include:
How many census blocks have a healthy food retailer within a half mile boundary?
The next step is to assemble data sources available for your region. Some nutrition examples include:
Summarize your data. By looking for areas of overlap in the indicators and data, you can identify barriers and opportunities relating to access to healthy food:
Example of the Cowlitz County Healthy Communities Workbook (pdf)
Featured: September 2011
Local Health Jurisdictions and their partners
Carla Huyck, Manager, Healthy Communities Program, 360-236-3678