Guest Opinion: It takes a village; community is key to healthy residents

HEALTH CARE

April 13, 2014 

Did you know a city and how it's built can actually make its residents healthier? And not just physically more fit, but healthier mentally, socially and economically. My research has shown that your ZIP code is often more important than your genetic code, and where you live powerfully affects your health and quality of life.

The first thing they teach in medical school is to make the diagnosis. If you start treating a dozen different symptoms with a dozen different treatments, you won't make any progress to help your patient. Discovering the underlying disorder is pivotal to discovering a cure. My diagnosis is that we build too many communities without thinking enough about our own and our loved ones' well-being, health and happiness.

You hear about some of our symptoms every day - inequity in education, poverty, health care, climate change, and beyond. Using a critical eye and addressing the system as a whole will be vital to finding a much needed diagnosis.

As I prepared for my visit to Idaho to speak at the Creating Healthy Communities Summit, I learned that Idaho is one of the states promoting health, fighting childhood obesity and working to build healthy communities. I also learned that one in three Idaho children is overweight or obese; sadly this is in line with national trends.

However, Idaho is fortunate in its trailblazing organizations that have taken the challenge of promoting health and fighting obesity like the High Five Children's Health Collaborative, St. Luke's Children's Hospital, the Boise Parks and Recreation Department and Let's Move Boise. All are encouraging access to healthy foods, activity, education and even endorsing policies in these areas.

These groups recognize that obesity and lack of fitness are worsened by a reliance on cars and sedentary lifestyles. People need attractive public spaces to motivate us to get out and connect with each other. Cities that promote walking and biking as part of daily living will have hardier and happier residents.

We need to make sure our physical environments - our homes, offices, neighborhoods, transit systems - foster equity and sustainability to promote overall health in our communities.

Idaho has some gems in this area, as well as areas for improvement. However, good places take work and engagement - they certainly don't happen on their own. The entire community must find ways to make positive changes, and think creatively about how they can promote exercise and social involvement. This is too important of an issue to simply rely on experts; it demands involvement from every specialty area - especially community members.

At the Creating Healthy Communities Summit on April 17 and 18, I've encouraged professionals from many different industries to participate. Government has a role to play - but it's not enough to pass laws. This is a threat to our Idaho's future. It is not enough to have "white coats" grappling with these challenges. Educators, agriculture, public safety, transportation, business leaders - and future leaders - must work together to energize the entire community to build a healthy city.

Jackson is a pediatrician, and host of the PBS series "Designing Healthy Communities." He has done extensive work in the impact of the environment on health. Jackson will be speaking at the Creating Healthy Communities Summit on April 17. Learn more at www.HighFiveIdaho.org/summit

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