Supporting Health in Our Communities
Finding ways to encourage healthy lifestyles for both residents and employees has become increasingly important to California cities in recent years. Concerns about obesity and related diseases that threaten our most vulnerable populations, including children and youth, have resulted in a number of local and statewide efforts to support health.
Many of you are familiar with the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Cities Campaign (www.healcitiescampaign.org), which provides technical assistance, model policies and a website to aid cities in becoming healthier places to live, work and play. Some of its goals include helping cities promote walking, biking and other physical activity and enhance access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthful foods.
The League Partner program has recently launched a collaborative project with Kaiser Permanente, Keenan & Associates and the HEAL Cities Campaign. This new initiative is called Cities for Workforce Health, and it’s focused on supporting League cities’ efforts to improve employee health. (For more about this initiative, see “City Forum.”)
Why It’s Important
Supporting employee health and the health of our communities makes sense for a variety of reasons. Obesity poses a major threat to our health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States — triple the rate from just one generation ago. The obesity epidemic affects adults, too. Obesity is a contributing cause of many other health problems for adults, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some types of cancer. These are among the leading causes of death in the United States. Obesity can also cause sleep apnea and breathing problems, and it makes physical activity more difficult.
Obesity and related diseases not only cause pain and suffering for the people affected by them, but also require medical care. This burdens our health-care system and contributes to the rising cost of health care.
By supporting wellness efforts, cities can offer an environment where residents and employees are encouraged to be more physically active, eat nutritious food and snacks and enjoy the advantages of good health. In addition, healthy employees are typically more productive and bring enthusiasm and energy to their work, whether they are employed in the private or public sector. A healthy workforce is an essential part of a healthy local economy.
A Local Example
In the City of Pasadena, where I serve as mayor, we have embraced a number of activities through our Live Well Pasadena program to help improve the health of our employees as well as our residents. With the help of Dr. Eric Walsh, who leads our Public Health Department, the following efforts are under way.
Healthy Nutrition Guidelines. The City of Pasadena passed a Healthy Food and Beverage Vending and Procurement Policy in October 2011. This policy requires all snacks and beverages sold in vending machines on city property to meet nutrition guidelines (available at www.cityofpasadena.net). The city’s food procurement manual includes a list of products that meet the nutrition guidelines. In addition, the policy requires that all beverages and snacks served at events led or coordinated by city staff also comply with the nutrition guidelines. Employees and others now have access to a range of healthier vending machine foods, including whole grains, granola, fresh fruit, fiber bars, nuts and dried fruit, soy milk, fruit juices, and baked — instead of fried — goods. Sandwiches are now more nutritious because of leaner content.
Tips for Healthy Living. Pasadena sponsors talks that are held quarterly (or more frequently) on a variety of health-related topics, including stress management, how to be a lifelong learner, surviving the holiday season and tips for healthy living. These lectures are open to employees and community members.
Increasing Options for Physical Activity. The city has launched an effort to make the stairwells in its facilities more attractive and fun to use. This includes incorporating the use of murals and graphics, some of which list how many calories are burned per stairway climbed. Employees currently participate in a number of informal walking groups and video-based exercise classes. Pasadena is working on expanding the exercise classes by offering live instruction and increased availability.
Employee Assistance Program. Another important element of Pasadena’s effort to support healthy living involves educating employees about the services available through the Employee Assistance Program. These include mental health counseling and stress management. The city encourages its employees to use these services as part of their regular efforts to stay healthy, because good health encompasses both physical and mental health.
Take Action Now
These are a few examples of how Pasadena is working to support good health. Similar efforts are under way in communities throughout California. If your city hasn’t already done so, I encourage you to take advantage of the support offered by the HEAL Cities Campaign and the Cities for Workforce Health program. Taking these positive steps now will create a healthier future for all Californians.