10/19/2011 by Susan Burden

Community Focus: Making health the easy choice

Would you ignore a smoking car until it needed to be towed to a shop? Or wait until leaking pipes flooded your house before contacting a contractor? If you did, you’d expect to pay a heavy premium to repair what’s likely become major damage—usually much more than the cost of simple maintenance.  But for most Americans, this is exactly what we do when it comes to our health. Up to now, this approach has been mindboggling for policy makers and healthcare providers.

Consider these stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • 7 in 10 deaths in the U.S. are from chronic diseases
  • 1 in every 3 adults is obese
  • Preventable chronic disease now accounts for 75% of the $2 trillion the U.S. spends on health care

In 1998 a group of five people decided to focus community resources on the question:  What would it take to make our community healthy? These five people were the elected board of the Beach Cities Health District (BCHD) in Redondo, Manhattan, and Hermosa Beach, California.

BCHD has decided it can’t afford not to invest in preventive health. To do this on a sustainable level, research shows we need to make environmental-level changes—making healthy choices the easier choices.

When it’s easier to walk or ride a bike than to drive, people will naturally begin choosing healthy transportation. Restaurants that make fresh fruit or vegetables the default side dish, requiring people to ask for fries, will see more people make the healthier choice. Employees who have healthy snacks options more accessible than unhealthy ones will make the better decision, because it’s more convenient.

BCHD has been initiating these changes through extensive school health programs, preventive health programs for seniors, and fitness centers geared toward small children and seniors.  In 2010, BCHD adopted an environmental approach through a partnership with the Blue Zones Initiative. With the support of each city, school board, chamber of commerce and key civic leaders, we’re making our community more walkable, bikeable and livable one neighborhood at a time, rather than one person at a time. This innovative multi-leveled approach is a public private partnership with Healthways, Inc. 

In our Beach Cities community, we’re helping restaurants learn how to make healthy choices more marketable and profitable, schools create policies and activities that foster healthy environments, employers make improvements that increase productivity and the health of their employees, cities find way to integrate walik/bike lanes into already budgeted road maintenance, and so much more.

We’re finishing the first year of this three-year initiative, and we’ve already seen our community come alive and rally around the idea of becoming healthier. We know it is not a sprint but a long run to the finish line - our community health depends on it.

Susan Burden is CEO of the Beach Cities Health District and a CA Fwd Forward Thinker

Categories: Forward Thinkers, Civic Engagement

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