The NashVitality campaign to aims promote healthier eating and active living by exploring policies and norms in government, workplaces, schools, churches and communities. Prevention Institute's Larry Cohen comments on innovative practices to support health.
By Tom Wilemon
About 100 people involved in the NashVitality campaign to promote healthier eating and active living spent Friday in a summit sharing ideas about how to keep community momentum going after federal funding for the initiative runs its course.
They walked to the event, took exercise breaks and dined on low-calorie, low-fat lunches. Two national experts on community health policy told them Nashville can set an example for the rest of the country.
The buzz has already begun, said Tyler Norris, co-founder of the CommunityInitiatives Network. He heard good things about the city's efforts to combat obesity last week during a meeting at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
"Nashville is being lifted up in the nation as a community that is doing good work," Norris said. "Your complete streets legislation that passed is being talked about. Nashville is becoming a model - not because it is perfect yet, but because its leadership has come together across the sectors."
The complete streets legislation designates areas for biking and walking.
The Nashville HEALS summit occurred a year after the Metro Health Department received a $7.5 million federal stimulus grant to combat obesity through the Communities Putting Prevention to Work program. The money must be spent before next April.
The goal is to change policies and habits in government, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and churches. Larry Cohen, executive director of the Prevention Institute, said Southern cultural activities offer more opportunities.
"We can change the food in our faith communities, what we serve on Sundays in our churches," Cohen said. "We call it the traditional way, but it's really a pretty short tradition of greasy, fatty food. We can go to a tradition of saying, 'We care about the people we're with. We want healthy food.' There are lots of changes we can make indoors and out."
In his speech, Mayor Karl Dean said that a city recognized as the health-care capital of the nation also should strive to be one of its healthiest cities. Dean has joined the NashVitality effort through the "Walk 100 Miles With the Mayor" program. Today's event is a 1.76-mile trek at Cane Ridge Park. It will begin at 11:30 a.m.
Health officials unveiled the NashVitality campaign last month. Dr. Bill Paul, director of the Metro Health Department, said the annual summit is important to improving health. He gave efforts to get more people using stairs instead of elevators as an example. That effort could be as simple as signs at elevators urging people to take the stairs or more ambitious endeavors such as building codes to promote open and inviting staircases.
The NashVitality campaign also includes plans to bring fresh produce to urban food deserts and promote community gardens.
Alisa Haushalter, director of population health programs for the health department, is hopeful about the health of Nashvillians.
Said Haushalter: "Ten years from now, we will look back and expect that healthy eating and active living is part of our culture."