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VOL. 126 | NO. 147 | Friday, July 29, 2011

Cmty. Considers Health Improvements

By Aisling Maki

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More than 100 community leaders from various sectors gathered at the University of Memphis earlier this week for the 2011 Let’s CHANGE Summit, a daylong event with the purpose of identifying strategies as part of a community agenda to help generate policies and harnessing stakeholder collaboration to move those plans into action.

The Mid-South is home to many inactive overweight children and an unusually high number of citizens with diabetes and heart and vascular disease. In an effort to effectively tackle obesity and the wide range of serious health problems with which it’s associated, the Shelby County Health Department has teamed up with Healthy Memphis Common Table, a regional health care improvement collaborative comprised of Memphis area community partners.

That partnership has resulted in an initiative called Let’s CHANGE (Let’s Commit to Healthy Activity and Nutrition Goals Everyday) bringing together individuals from various sectors, including business, academia, foundations, health and community advocacy groups, fitness organizations, and the health care and insurance industries.

“We need a community agenda, and the wisdom of taking these separate domains is building upon some of the work that’s already been happening at the state level with the Tennessee Obesity Task Force,” said Dr. Kenneth Robinson, public health policy adviser to Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. “The other exciting thing for these participants to know that their work began today, where our national policy agendas around obesity reduction have already gone, and where the state plan has already generated some potential strategies. What we’ve done is to adopt a subset of those policies and focused our own efforts around those domains for us in Memphis. This (summit) has been an opportunity for us to particularize national policy agendas and make them ours.”

The Wednesday, July 27 summit was made possible by The Memphis Business Group on Health (MBGH), a coalition of local businesses working together to support and influence local health care services. A member of Let’s CHANGE, MBGH received a $49,000 grant from the National Business Coalition on Health.

Memphis was only one of a handful of communities to receive the grant, which is funded through the United Health Foundation and the Community Coalitions Health Institute. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation also helped to fund the summit.

“We really needed an ability to advance the work past the talking stage to say, ‘Let’s work together as a community around some common goals,’” said project leader Cristie Travis, CEO of the Memphis Business Group on Health, who also serves on the board of directors of the National Business Coalition on Health. “They announced they had some funding available for some community health planning grants. We didn’t want to start something new, and Let’s CHANGE is a great vehicle to take us forward, but we needed the community input on what specific steps we should take.”

Partners agreed that strategies to improve the health of the community should be low cost, easily implemented and have the potential for broad impact. They should also be goals that can be met within two years.

“We want to show people we can do it,” Travis said. “It’s intentionally picking the low-hanging fruit – those things that are not that difficult to get done. Once we start making progress on those issues, we can then build the momentum to really tackle some of our bigger issues as a community.”

After spending the day brainstorming in break-out groups, attendees gathered in the university’s ballroom to present their strategies to impact the way Memphians live, heal, pray, work, learn and play.

In terms of exercise strategies, those included increased use of community centers, parks, churches and other existing facilities for recreation, and the creation of more indoor walking paths and outdoor walking trails.

Participants also discussed increasing bicycle usage by 10 percent a year and promoting walking and biking through school programs, youth groups, law enforcement and neighborhood associations. The plan also includes something called the “Walking School Bus,” which involves children walking to and from school in groups.

For each strategy presented, barriers were also discussed, which in the case of the Walking School Bus include things like traffic, cost of biking equipment and child predators, the latter of which could be dealt with through intergenerational mentoring, including having retired grandparents and others in the community walk with groups of children.

Looking at changes in food culture, strategies presented include the promotion of breastfeeding babies; the availability of healthy cafeteria choices at schools and places of work; increased availability of water fountains in parks and other public spaces; healthy fundraisers and the promotion of non-food items for school fundraisers; and addressing the issue of “food deserts” by working with community gardens, farmers markets and full-service grocery stores.

Visit www.healthymemphis.org to learn more about Let’s CHANGE.

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