Creating Environments for Healthier Living: Six Action Teams Work with a Specific Three-Year Focus

Article excerpt

The old adage, "It takes a village to raise a child," can be used to describe the efforts in Columbia, Missouri, as leaders and residents work to build and develop a community in which healthy living takes precedence. Funded by grants and fueled by passionate citizens, opportunities for a healthier lifestyle abound for the more than 100,000 residents of this Midwestern city.

Although 50 communities across the country have received similar funding, Columbia is considered one of nine leading sites for the Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) project, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and aims to reach children who are at highest risk for obesity on the basis of race or ethnicity, income, and geographic location.

RWJF supports policy and environmental changes that promote healthy eating and active living--change initiatives that support healthier communities for children and families across the United States.

In Columbia, public health officials, city leaders, and residents are researching, developing, and implementing policy, environmental, and systems changes that encourage healthy food and activity choices, particularly in the city's First Ward and other low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Work during the first year of the grant included an intensive process of engagement with residents and community organizations; a common project vision for advocates, policymakers, and the community; and a Unite4HealthyNeighborhoods summit.

While the real work is just getting started, six action teams during the next three years will focus on these specific areas: public transportation, neighborhood association revitalization, community food system mapping, home and community food production, affordable and accessible farmers market produce, and youth advocacy. These focus areas were identified by the community as areas where specific, measurable changes should be made.

With its education programs and extensive work improving infrastructure for Columbia's cyclists and walkers, GetAbout Columbia (GAC) encourages Columbians to reconsider how they travel. In 2006, Columbia was selected as one of four communities in the nation to participate in the Federal Highway Administration's Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program. Columbia's designation as a pilot city came with $22 million in federal funds over a four-year period to help build infrastructure and establish national standards for public awareness and willingness to use active modes of transportation.

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GAC is creating modal shift--an increase in citizens' willingness to consider, and then experience, the benefits of walking and biking. Educational programs for all skill and comfort levels include biking safety and skills education classes, neighborhood evening walks, and organized bike rides. With more than 125 miles of new bikeways, pedways, and sidewalks planned, future additions and improvements to Columbia's existing network of walking and biking opportunities will increase safe travel around town by foot or bike. …