Obesity, with corresponding ailments such as heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes, is a well-chronicled public health issue and has many communities looking for ways to positively impact their residents.
What can prove to have an enduring impact on improving community health is a broad coalition of stakeholders coming together to create a culture of wellness. For example, the City of West Chicago, with its Healthy West Chicago initiative, is a case study in how to galvanize a community toward collective better health. With these modifiable tips from Mayor Ruben Pineda, other communities can work to improve the health and quality of life for residents.
Have a champion
Every major civic initiative needs someone to drive it, someone to assemble and activate the right roster of influencers, experts and activists. Progressive leaders concerned about community sustainability and resident health, such as city council members or those in influential positions within the community, make good candidates to spearhead the plan.
To improve nutrition and increase physical activity in the City of West Chicago, Mayor Pineda reached out to community leaders in local government, education, health care, social services, faith-based entities, businesses and non-profits to initiate partnerships and secure funding to create the Healthy West Chicago Action Plan, a multi-year guide for promoting better health in the community.
Engage other community members
It is important to build awareness of your initiative and get buy-in from residents through consistent communication. One of the most important demographic segments to engage is children. Kids are open to change and are developing lifelong habits. They are also extremely influential with their parents, siblings and friends.
“The key to a sustainable, healthy future is to change the way the next generation thinks about nutrition and exercise,” Mayor Pineda said. “This makes the public school system critical to driving the behavioral changes that contribute to positive outcomes.”
Measure and adjust
Once your community’s health initiative is in action, assess it annually against the overarching plan and add, eliminate or improve components to continue the momentum toward a healthy community for generations to come.
Keep it fresh
A successful community-wide health initiative needs to continuously build on its momentum by adding new programs and participants. For example, Healthy West Chicago conducts sponsored activities such as free healthy cooking classes for students, a “Rethink Your Drink” campaign to educate community members about the harmful effects of consuming sugar-sweetened beverages, weekly community walks with the mayor and a community garden initiative, which promotes organic suburban agriculture and benefits both the environment and local families. In addition, providing ongoing updates about programs and offering online tools, such as activity trackers and interactive walking route maps, are ways to build interest and retain participants.
City of West Chicago