Thursday, February 18, 2016

Minds Expand And Muscles Flex at 2016 Active Living Summit

The Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness Partnerships to Improve Community Health (PICH) Program’s Active Living Summit, held on February 5, 2016, attracted more than 80 research, policy, education, health and urban planning professionals and community organization members who learned about new tools and winning strategies for combatting chronic health problems and encouraging active and healthy lifestyles.

The half-day event also featured a preview of the Environment, Health and Livability Dashboard for County municipalities, as well as an informative panel discussion on “Strategies for Implementing Effective Policy, Systems and Environmental Change.” A dozen exhibitors also provided demonstrations and dispensed product samples and information that promoted healthy lifestyles.

 Interim County Health Director Dr. David Sarnow, along with PICH Program Administrator Lisa Goodin and Monique Eppinger, Senior Management Policy Analyst for County Commissioner Joan Garner, welcomed the audience and discussed their mission not only to address public health problems but also to help prevent them. They applauded the PICH Program for producing the Summit, calling it an effective vehicle for disseminating prevention advice to practitioners and residents. 
Following opening remarks, Robin Parson, a fitness and recreation specialist with the Health and Wellness Department bounded onto the stage at the Georgia Institute of Technology Student Center Ballroom and led a rousing interactive exercise demonstration.

The Dashboard preview was presented by Dr. Nisha Botchwey, Associate Professor in the School of City and Regional Planning at Georgia Institute of Technology, who leads the team developing the database in partnership with the Fulton County PICH Program. Before offering a glimpse of the dashboard contents and its functions, Dr. Botchwey engaged the audience in a discussion of the role built and outdoor environmental conditions play in maintaining overall good health. She also stressed that access to current health data and trends is essential to developing sensible and effective health policy and systems-change strategies.

Here are some key takeaways of the panel discussion, moderated by Renee Autumn Ray of the Atlanta Regional Commission. 

Rob Brawner of the Atlanta Beltline Partnership showcased the progress to date and future goals for the multi-use urban development, including a plan for transforming many thoroughfares into Complete Streets that will allow pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities to access, use and share the roadways safely. Brawner told the audience that the Partnership values input from neighborhood and community groups as well as experts to understand what’s relevant and effective when planning new projects, in order to achieve desirable cultural, environmental and behavioral changes and to improve quality of life.

Melinda Pruitt of the Fulton County Department of Aging and Youth Services described several successful strategies the agency has deployed to change attitudes and build enthusiasm for adopting healthier behaviors. They include the active involvement of youngsters serving as influencers among their peers and within their families. The Department also conducts healthy cooking demonstrations for faith-based groups, creates healthy-recipe cookbooks for families and distributes healthy-eating coloring books for kids to encourage lifestyle changes.

Debra Kibbe from Georgia State University’s Georgia Health Policy Center described a childhood obesity model that helps inform the complex effort involved in successfully informing legislators about how their funding decisions may impact childhood obesity prevalence in the long-term. 

She also discussed how Fulton County Schools are implementing professional development and innovative physical education curricula to improve moderate to vigorous physical activity. “Schools vary in their readiness to adopt the instruction strategies and resources,” she said. “When starting, we had to make our case on a classroom-by-classroom basis.” Her advice to others embarking on broad policy and program changes: Don't start from scratch, find existing policies and programs, and adopt them so they are replicable in your community.

Dr. Emily Anne Vall, who manages Georgia Shape, the Governor’s childhood obesity program facilitated by the Georgia Department of Public Health, discussed initiatives that will move the needle on child obesity. The dialogue touched on various projects, some implemented through the Georgia Women Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program to help mothers develop healthy eating habits for their families, as well as the Power Up for 30 physical activity program currently available for every elementary school in the state.

Dr. Vall and Ms. Kibbe recommended that the audience become involved with Georgia Shape, the statewide, initiative in which governmental, philanthropic, academic and business communities work collaboratively to address childhood obesity through diverse strategies. The Georgia S.H.A.P.E. Act, passed in 2009, supports annual fitness assessment of Georgia's public school students in grades 1-12.  Attendees were encouraged to educate themselves about renewal of the S.H.A.P.E. Act in 2018 to ensure that the state can continue to increase and track the number of students in the Healthy Fitness Zone for Body Mass Index and Aerobic Capacity. 

Dr. Glenda Knight of the Diabetes Community Action Coalition said community groups can provide a valuable service to constituents by providing health literacy education that’s often overlooked by healthcare providers while diagnosing and treating chronic disease. Her group helps patients learn to self-manage their diseases and guides them to resources to navigate the healthcare system and access needed services.

Dr. Shalonda Freeman of the Georgia Department of Public Health echoed those comments and described a program developed by the agency in partnership with the Georgia Pharmacy Association that trains community pharmacists to assist patients with medication therapy management and to provide counseling about medication.

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