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On the trail to a healthier state

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Healthy Newark initiative hopes to encourage active lifestyles

 
The News Journal/Jennifer Corbett

An annual behavioral risk survey conducted by the CDC suggests that obesity rates in Delaware have plateaued in recent years. Photo by The News Journal/Jennifer Corbett

Its the kind of statistic no one likes to hear except maybe the owner of the local doughnut shop.

Delaware has the third-highest obesity rate in the nation, according to a recently published Gallup poll. Using self-reported height and weight information, Gallup officials computed Delawares obesity rate at 34 percent, above the national average of 27 percent.

Public health officials caution that while the poll isnt scientific and leaves plenty of room for error in a state as small as Delaware its a reminder that more needs to be done to encourage and sustain a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, said data from the annual behavioral risk survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest obesity rates have plateaued in the First State in recent years. There also are signs of a slight increase in physical activity among residents.

We are usually around the national average or slightly worse, Rattay said. We still have a problem. Community efforts

Some of that increase in physical activity might be the result of an effort among several municipalities to promote physical activity and other healthy lifestyle choices. Middletown, Seaford and Newark are among the communities developing outdoor programs.

Next week, the city of Newark will boost its existing efforts with the kickoff of its Healthy Newark initiative. The focus is promoting healthy activities and lifestyle options in the college town through social media and the hashtag #HealthyNewarkDE.

Theres a need for Delaware local governments to get involved and improve their built environment, said Marcia Scott, a policy scientist with the University of Delaware Institute for Public Administration. We really need municipalities to look beyond land use plans.

Rattay said that kind of community approach can make a difference, though the results can take years to see. The goal is to make a healthy lifestyle the default with walking paths, pedestrian friendly sidewalks and access to fresh fruits and vegetables rather than something that has to be sought out.

We dont have a state of individuals who have simply lost willpower. It is more difficult to make the healthy choices, Rattay said. The best way to really support people making healthy choices is by taking a comprehensive approach. It is having community leaders and a variety of stakeholders looking at what are the greatest barriers in our individual community.

Last summer, the states Council on Health Promotion and Disease Prevention recognized seven Delaware municipalities for their work on promoting community health. The awards were intended to highlight community efforts to improve access to health-based services, provide spaces for safe and appropriate physical activity, reduce tobacco use and encourage healthy eating, Rattay said.

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A collaborative approach

 

Middletown, Newark, Seaford, Wilmington, New Castle, Bethany Beach and Dover were recognized for taking a collaborative approach to creating a healthy lifestyle. Among their efforts: banning smoking in parks, encouraging students to walk to school, adding a bus stop near a grocery store and requiring new housing developments to connect to existing shopping and neighborhoods to encourage walking and biking.

Scott said the efforts also reflect many of the recommendations found in the Toolkit for a Healthy Delaware, a website developed by the University of Delawares Institute for Public Administration.

The way we are building communities is not like how we used to build communities. It used to be pedestrian-oriented and built like on a grid. In this era of suburbanization, everything became car-oriented. The whole thing created a perfect storm for this epidemic of obesity, said Scott, who co-authored a resource guide that formed the basis for the online toolkit.

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Unique challenges

 

Each community has its individual needs, Rattay said. A community approach encourages other stakeholders such as the local church, school or senior center to be part of the solution.

They have to be tailored to what their greatest barriers are. If you dont have a walkable community, why not? Is violence an issue? Rattay said. Do we need better lighting or can we make changes that can make people feel much safer?

In Wilmingtons Southbridge community, residents wanted more access to healthy foods, especially for people who dont drive. The addition of a bus stop near the ShopRite grocery store was a relatively simple change that reaped big benefits, Rattay said.

Even the relatively easy change to make water more available in the Delaware State Parks as part of its Munch Better campaign made a difference. In the two years the project was studied, water was the best-selling beverage.

Scott cited Bethany Beach and Newarks Main Street as examples of locations that encourage active living. The two locales blend commercial and residential properties while offering trails, community exercise programs and other outdoor amenities.

Its that kind of outlook that Newark hopes to celebrate through its Healthy Newark partnership. The initiative was developed by the citys parks and recreation department, the Downtown Newark Partnership and Fusion Fitness Center. The campaign runs through April 11.

But community doesnt just have to be made up of geographical neighbors. One arm of the Healthier Sussex County Initiative is relying on a virtual community to increase physical activity and encourage healthy choices among residents in southern Delaware.

It joined the charitable giving site Plus 3 Network, which tallies exercise and converts it into points redeemed in dollars by corporate sponsors.

Participants are earning money for Sussex Outdoors, a public awareness campaign made up of Bayhealths Milford Memorial Hospital, Beebe Healthcare and Nanticoke Health Services.

So far, the exercise campaign has raised almost $5,000, said John Hollis, Sussex manager of community and government affairs for Nemours Health & Prevention Services.

Its a great incentive, he said.

Originally published in The News Journal on March 17, 2014. Article by Contact Kelly Bothum.

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Delaware has the third-highest obesity rate in the nation, according to a recently published Gallup poll, and some in the state are hoping to make a difference.
3/17/2014
 
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On the trail to a healthier state