Guest Opinion: Taking steps to make Boise the healthiest city in America


May 21, 2014 

What would it mean to be the healthiest city in America? Lower medical costs. Longer, healthier lives spent doing the things we enjoy most with our family, pets and loved ones. A beautiful, active city where every citizen has equal opportunity to live a healthy, productive life. I believe there is nothing more important than our health, nor anything that will affect our city more positively than improving healthy opportunities for our citizens.

Today, we face the greatest health epidemic of our lifetime. No, not smoking. Thankfully, smoking now ranks No. 2 as the most preventable cause of death. For three decades, obesity levels have crept up the charts and now rank No. 1. While Idaho sits just below the national average, there is enormous room for improvement. We are working hard here in Boise to create a built environment where everyone can walk, bike and play safely outdoors close to home - but there is a lot more we must do to reverse the current trends and create a healthier city.

It starts with our children. Kids are five times as likely to be overweight or obese when they grow up if they have weight problems during the earliest years of their life. Today, one in five children are overweight or obese by the time they reach their sixth birthday, and over half of obese children become overweight by age 2. As a result, diabetes and other health concerns are affecting children at earlier ages than ever. We can and must do more.

It is for this reason, in coordination with the Central District Health Department and the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, I am proposing an ordinance that will set new healthy guidelines for child care providers to help reduce childhood obesity rates and set our kids on a healthy path to success as they begin their lives.

The Healthy Child Care Initiatives Ordinance would establish and monitor several benchmarks for children receiving care from licensed providers in Boise, including: increased opportunities for daily physical activity; limits on sedentary, noneducational screen time; nutritional standards for meals and snacks served by providers; and a private location for mothers to nurse their children. Training will give every child care provider the tools they need to succeed, and provider compliance status will be tracked on a website that will give parents a comprehensive decision-making tool they can use when selecting a provider their children deserve. The ordinance will also strengthen quality standards for child care, including improved child-to-worker ratios and increased training requirements for providers. Idaho presently ranks last in the country on child care standards.

How much impact could these new standards have in Boise? A lot. Approximately two-thirds of parents use child care in Idaho. That's a lot of kids. This ordinance has the potential to help our children's health more than any other single policy we could implement at the local level. Rebecca Lemmons, Policy Analyst at CDHD and health policies expert, recently stated, "Empowering child care providers to teach our children healthy habits at an early age is our strongest weapon against lifelong disease and disability. It's easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken adults."

Becoming the healthiest city in America will take partnerships, good policy and direct citizen involvement. I believe we can get there, and it begins with our children. In April the city held two open houses on the proposed healthy initiatives and providers expressed overwhelming support. There will be additional opportunity for public input in the near future. I hope to see you there.

Thomson, a member of the Boise City Council, is an Air Force veteran with over a decade of experience at the federal, state and private sector levels as a policy analyst and auditor.

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