Health and Safety

orange-iconHealthy and Safe Communities

Objective 1 – Promote a comprehensive concept of community health, wellness, and healthy lifestyles
Objective 2 – Improve access to healthy foods
Objective 3 – Promote safe, healthy, and walkable communities

 

Regional Context
SD4 Health StatusThe population in the Mid-South region is dealing with many of the negative health outcomes common in the Southeastern United States. For chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer, the four counties of the region have higher rates than the nation as a whole. However, the region is large and diverse, both in terms of people and environments. This diversity translates to considerable difference in health status in different areas of the region. As illustrated in the community health status map to the right, areas in the western portion of Shelby County and Crittenden County generally exhibit poorer health, while areas in the eastern portion of Shelby County and DeSoto County fare better. Results are mixed in varying portions of Fayette County.

Roughly one in three adults in the Mid-South region is classified as obese, which can be a contributing factor for many chronic diseases. The causes of these diseases vary, and can be difficult to describe at a population or community level. However, they are often associated with low levels of physical activity and poor nutrition.

A higher proportion of the regional population gets no leisure time physical activity (29%) than the United States population as a whole (24%), and with 34% classified as having low food access, the regional population also fares worse than the nation (24%) on this measure. In addition, the region has higher unemployment than all three states (Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi) and the nation as a whole. The region also has a higher percentage of the population living in poverty than the rest of the nation.

Increased rates and costs of adult and child obesity and related chronic diseases in the last 30 years are a serious threat to the health and quality of life of residents in the Mid-South region. Obesity, lack of fitness, and reduced exposure to the natural environment contribute to poor health, depression, stress and other health and behavioral problems. This has enormous economic costs for individuals and the region as a whole.

A new cross-sector approach is needed to address these complex, inter-related problems to reduce health disparities and promote equity throughout the region.

 

Proposed Outcomes
Addressing the objectives associated with Healthy and Safe Communities is expected to lead to:
• Lower occurrence of public health issues, such as obesity and asthma;
• Improved access to recreation and active lifestyles resulting in healthier residents;
• Nearby access to high quality fresh foods and health care, including farmers markets and community gardens;
• Increased and more frequent usage of pedestrian infrastructure, parks, trails, and open spaces;
• Improved safety and feelings of safety for users of parks, trails, and open spaces;
• Expanded opportunity for residents to age in place safely;
• Inclusion of Health in All Policies (HiAP) principles in planning, development, and legislation.
Based on regional context and greatest needs identified for Healthy and Safe Communities, the following objectives and actions focus on improving health conditions in the region by creating better access to green space, healthy foods, and walkable environments and improving safety of green spaces and communities.

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Objective 1 – Promote a comprehensive concept of community health, wellness, and healthy lifestyles

4.1.1 Create and conduct a coordinated education campaign that seeks to promote healthy lifestyles and active use of parks, greenways, and other green spaces
4.1.2 Advocate for the right for all people to live in communities that are well-planned, clean, green, and safe and provide opportunities for healthy lifestyle choices and living
4.1.3 Include Health Impact Assessments (HIA) and Health in All Policies (HiAP) reviews as part of municipal planning, development, and legislative processes, as appropriate
4.1.4 Create and support nature- and placebased youth education and physical fitness programs as a means for improving child health, development, and education
4.1.5 Incorporate fitness programming and equipment into local parks and greenways to increase access regionally

Levels of childhood and adult obesity in the Mid-South region and many associated health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease are well above national averages. However, addressing these issues is often not as simple as a prescription for more exercise and eating healthy foods. Socioeconomic factors and the built environment have a significant influence on an individual’s ability to eat healthier or access safe, nearby recreation facilities.

As such, health and wellness are defined for the purpose of this plan as: a dynamic process for achieving physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, vocational and social well-being throughout the lifespan occurring within an environmental context mediated and influenced by individual choice and family, cultural, social, and political factors. This definition guided the development of the health component of the regional plan.

To address this comprehensive concept, both availability and accessibility for users of all ages and abilities should be considered when promoting use and development of parks, greenways, and other green spaces in the region. In other words, not only should all individuals of the region have the choice to live in a healthy community with nearby green space, but green spaces should also include programming and equipment for all users. Oftentimes, parks and open spaces only include one amenity, such as a basketball court or playground, which is only used by a portion of the community. Diversifying the programming in parks and open spaces allows use by all, regardless of age or ability.

These considerations can also be part of a comprehensive strategy to influence public policy to ensure health is a primary factor in decision making about community  design or amenities, known as Health in All Policies. As part of the Mid-South Regional Greenprint, a Health Impact Assessment was conducted to ensure health is addressed in all Strategic Directions of the regional plan. More information about the Health Impact Assessment and its recommendations can be found here, Health Impact Assessment.

 

Objective 2 – Improve access to healthy foods

4.2.1 Comprehensively address food insecurity, focusing on communities with low access to healthy foods
4.2.2 Promote, incentivize and sustain community gardens by involving neighborhood groups, churches, and other organizations
4.2.3 Use public parks and open spaces for locating healthy food destinations such as community gardens, urban farms, and farmers markets
4.2.4 Inform public about resources and benefits of soil testing for levels of nutrients and pollutants before gardening
4.2.5 Create and sustain school gardens as part of an integrated healthy foods curriculum
4.2.6 Create a group to advocate for policy and regulatory changes to improve and sustain the tri-state food system
4.2.7 Create and sustain farm-to-school initiatives serving public, private, and charter schools
4.2.8 Advocate for institutional policies supporting the purchase of regionally-sourced, sustainably produced, healthy food in schools, daycares, and healthcare facilities
4.2.9 Advocate for policies and incentives supporting sustainable rural, urban, and periurban agriculture farming for subsistence and market growing

Access to healthy foods is a critical determinant of health, particularly in the Mid-South region where access to food is low in many communities. To improve access to healthy foods, recommendations focus on increasing production of locally grown, healthy foods in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas. Using parks, open spaces, schools, and vacant lots for community gardens and urban farms can improve food security at the community scale. At the regional scale, increasing markets through developing farmers markets, creating healthy corner stores, and changing institutional policies in schools, hospitals, and daycares for regional sourcing of healthy foods can increase demand for locally grown food.

Though available land exists for production of healthy foods, oftentimes access to land can present a barrier to growing locally. In addition, access to water and quality of soil can prohibit urban or peri-urban agriculture. The section below addresses these and other common barriers.

 

Objective 3 – Promote safe, healthy, and walkable communities

4.3.1 Create and organize citizen groups, agencies, and community police to enhance safety in parks, trails, and green spaces
4.3.2 Integrate active and passive security measures in parks, trails, and green spaces
4.3.3 Incorporate Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles in green space planning
4.3.4 Improve neighborhood streets, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and lighting to promote safety and walkability
4.3.5 Organize and promote activities for the safe use of parks, trails, green spaces, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities, such as organized walks and rides and walking school bus groups
4.3.6 Encourage the use and care of parks, trails, and green spaces and bicycle facilities by youth and youth organizations

During the public engagement phase, safety was raised as the top concern for individuals responding to surveys and attending meetings. In the first community survey,
over 47% of respondents said streets and trails safe for walking and biking would most improve their health, above four other choices ranging from available park space to health education. In the same survey, the majority of respondents said lack of safe connections to parks, trails, or green space was their primary or secondary reason for not using green space regularly.

Unsafe streets, parks, and trails can deter individuals from regular use. Creating safer environments in communities and green spaces emerged as the most important value to public participants, signaling a strong need to address safety in order to improve use of green space regionwide. Properly maintained sidewalks and crosswalks should be treated as a health and safety priority for the region. Street furniture should also be considered in order to make short and medium walks more feasible.

Safety is a critical health issue for all residents of the Mid-South region, both in terms of safety from crime and injury and improving feelings of safety leading one to regularly use parks, trails, streets, and other green spaces for physical activity.

To address this concern, both passive and active measures are recommended to be undertaken by communities. Active measures include increasing police patrols of green spaces, enhanced lighting, and improved response times in cases of emergency. Neighbors can also take active roles in improving safety by organizing citizens groups, developing organized activities such as group walks or bicycle rides, and creating opportunities for youth to take ownership of maintaining parks, trails, and other green spaces.

Further, passive measures such as improved design in green space planning can improve safety, both from crime and injury. Communities across the country have turned to Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles to help create safer communities. By creating partnerships between community, police officers, and planners, problem areas for criminal behavior in communities can be identified and addressed through design features such as lighting, improved visibility, and landscaping.

 

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