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Planning and Building Healthy Communities

One of the biggest factors that impacts how healthy you are is where you live.

It’s harder to choose healthy meals if the only options near you are fast food or prepackaged, processed convenience store fare, and it’s more difficult to be physically active if you’re not near parks, sidewalks or other opportunities to exercise.

A key part of making west Georgia a healthier place to live is empowering residents to make healthier choices. Through Get Healthy, Live Well, we’re working to help design and build healthier communities.

Cities around west Georgia are already committed to making these changes. Traffic patterns have been changed to make streets safer for pedestrians, bicycle lanes have been built, trail networks are planned, bike-sharing programs were implemented and walk-friendly public spaces are drawing residents out of their homes and cars and into the community. In addition, gardens and farmers’ markets are proving a healthy oasis of sound nutritional choices throughout the region’s food deserts.

It takes strategy, planning — and commitment from the community’s leaders — but meaningful changes in community planning and design can (and do) lead to meaningful changes in a community’s health.

Getting There With Complete Streets

For years, roads, streets and avenues have been planned and built with cars in mind. But this “drive first” mentality has contributed to swelling rates of obesity, heart disease and more.

To build a healthier region, streets should be designed for use by everyone — drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike.

Throughout west Georgia, concerned residents have worked alongside civic leaders to develop avenues that are safer and more functional for a variety of traffic, enabling people to step away from their cars and get where they’re going in healthier ways by influencing the design of new roadways and supporting overlay efforts that make existing streets more user-friendly for everyone.

Mark Fenton, the acclaimed public health, planning and transportation expert, was the keynote speaker at Get Healthy, Live Well’s third annual community health summit in September 2015. The summit drew civic leaders from throughout Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties who learned more about the impact planning and policy can have on a community’s health. Following the summit, the Carrollton City Council took up an agenda at their next meeting that led with five items focused on improving the community’s health:

  • Accommodating bicycle and pedestrian traffic in conjunction with automobile traffic downtown
  • Consideration of changing traffic patterns on Newnan Street and Bankhead Highway
  • Discussion of bicycle lanes on South Street
  • Feasibility of a Carrollton GreenBelt spur on Old Newnan Road to connect the Oak Mountain Golf and Mill Pond developments
  • Proposed modifications to Adamson Square

The city budgeted about $1.2 million for sidewalk repairs, repairing trip hazards and broken sections all over town, and adding new sidewalks in places like Tabernacle Way that accommodate the safety of children walking to the city schools’ campus. Carrollton made plans for trail spurs connecting the University of West Georgia to Adamson Square, and bike lanes have been installed along West Georgia Drive. The city and university also looked at ways to make it easier for students from nearby apartment developments to walk to campus.

Fenton worked with the civic group Friends of the Carrollton GreenBelt to assist with the design of a GreenBelt crossing on Highway 27, with a plan submitted to the Georgia Department of Transportation for permitting. The Carrollton GreenBelt also completed several phases that have added almost five additional miles of trail to the system.

Watch this: Ride the length of the Carrollton GreenBelt in 6 minutes!

Bremen, too, focused on sidewalks and safety, adding a stretch of pedestrian pavement along Georgia Avenue to make it safer for students to walk to Bremen High School.

In Villa Rica, the city spent $5,000 on a new parklet for the downtown business district, converting several parking spaces into additional, pedestrian-friendly park space. The city also implemented policies in several areas downtown to make it safer for pedestrians to walk.

Villa Rica was chosen by the Georgia Municipal Association to participate in a downtown master planning program called Renaissance Strategic Visioning and Planning, focused on new ways to make the city’s historic downtown area even more pedestrian friendly. The city also partnered with the PATH Foundation to develop a master plan for a greenway trail system. 

Teaching a Healthier Generation

Richard Carmona, MD, a former Surgeon General of the United States, surveyed the rising rates of obesity and chronic disease among America’s children before forecasting that, “because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents."

The obesity rate for American children tripled from 1971 to 2011, and pediatricians are now treating conditions in children that typically set in much later in life, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. By 2016, Georgia continued to rank higher than the national average for childhood obesity, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health.

Through its taskforces and volunteers, Get Healthy, Live Well has set out to turn around this epidemic in west Georgia and give children back their healthy futures.

The initiative worked with delegates from 19 area schools — including those in Bremen, Carroll County, Carrollton, Haralson County and Heard County — to implement the Power Up for 30! program, which shows teachers and administrators how to build at least 30 minutes of non-physical education activity into the school day. In Carrollton City Schools alone, which undertook training for elementary school teachers in partnership with Georgia SHAPE and the University of West Georgia, more than 1,600 children under the age of 9 are getting an extra half-hour of exercise in their classrooms each day.

Carrollton City Schools has also taken advantage of its proximity to the Carrollton GreenBelt and, with the support of parents and Get Healthy, Live Well’s Safe Routes to School initiative, has changed policies to make it feasible for children to walk and ride bicycles to school. More than 50 children now participate in the program.

Get Healthy, Live Well is going even further into helping young people grow into healthy, active adults with its dynamic Kids Exhibit — a touring, interactive experience for children that features vivid depictions of sugar content in common foods, the consequences of tobacco use and factors in opportunities for physical activity.

And area children are also learning healthy cooking skills through Kids ‘N the Kitchen, an interactive teaching kitchen program for grades K-8. Kids ‘N the Kitchen is a program that assists schools in hands-on cooking, taste testing and nutrition education for students. Since its launch, the program has implemented 189 lessons, reaching 11,368 children in 12 schools.

Other initiatives launched by Get Healthy, Live Well include:

For more details on what Get Healthy, Live Well is doing to help build healthier communities, click on the links to the right. 

 

 

 

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