What can communities do to encourage their residents to increase physical activity and the consumption of healthy food choices? One approach is to model Washington County’s involvement in the Ohio Department of Health’s Creating Healthy Communities (CHC) program. The CHC program focuses on preventing and reducing chronic disease and as it reaches into our communities, it creates multiple benefits.
According to the Center for Disease Control, Ohio’s leading cause of death is heart disease. The American Heart Association tells us that “brisk walking may increase life expectancy in some people and that walking improves your heart health.” To encourage walking and increased physical activity, the CHC program partnered with township trustees at Belpre Township Recreation Park and Arboretum, in western Washington County. The facility has a walking path that contains both level areas and some slightly elevated sections to challenge both walkers and runners. Meeting at the park to walk together generates social interaction and exposure to the outdoors, both of which have been shown to have a positive effect on mental and physical health. By Creating a Heart healthy Collaborative, the program provided a resealed surface for the nearly half-mile walking path. In addition to resealing and restriping of the basketball court, new backboards were installed. Benches were added to the walking path for rest spots to enjoy the serenity of the 25 acres of land included in the park, which boasts all sorts of native trees and a nature trail.
A park on the eastern side of Washington County relied on the program in hopes of Creating Happy Children through the purchase of a slide and a mushroom cottage playhouse. The playground was severely lacking in equipment after it was determined that its existing equipment would not meet insurance standards. Located in the main village park and across the street from the elementary school, the park sees much activity. According to the Surgeon General’s testimony in “The Obesity Crisis in America,” many children carry excess body weight. He has also encouraged children to be physically active at least 60 minutes per day. This playground equipment will encourage playing outdoors allowing children to burn more calories, improve cognitive development, and stimulate their senses.
Another contributor to good health is nutritious eating habits. Funding through the CHC program provided for the expansion of a community garden. This program Created Healthy food Choices via production of fresh vegetables for the community, providing residents healthy food items. Eating more fruits and vegetables is a heathy choice that can help control weight, combat diabetes, and improve overall well-being.
Extension Community Development in Washington County engages in co-discovery and learning; and in this case, a key partner was the Washington County Health Department. In collaboration we were able to identify the needs and engage communities in efforts that aligned with the mission of the Creating Healthy Communities program.