With tensions rising around health care access in the United States, it’s easy to get discouraged. Yet here in Colorado, there’s a growing movement for healthy change that is helping advance healthy eating and active living (HEAL) policies in communities across the state. Since 2013, LiveWell Colorado’s HEAL Cities & Towns Campaign has worked with municipalities to adopt and implement more than 100 policies and infrastructure investments that increase access to biking, walking, recreation, healthy food, and healthy workplaces—attributes that make communities healthier and more economically successful.
Colorado is one of five states in the national HEAL Cities Campaign founded and funded by Kaiser Permanente. The Colorado Campaign is a partnership between the Colorado Municipal League and LiveWell Colorado, a nonprofit working to increase access to healthy eating and active living by removing barriers that inequitably and disproportionately affect low-income communities and people of color. The Campaign provides free training, tools, and support to help municipal leaders adopt and implement policies in three key areas: active community, healthy food access, and healthy workplace. Since its launch four years ago, the HEAL Cities & Towns Campaign has spread to urban, suburban, and rural communities in every region of Colorado.
With the addition of Sterling and Timnath earlier this month, LiveWell Colorado reached a major milestone—50 participating HEAL municipalities. This means the Campaign is now reaching more than half of our state’s total population. “Cities all over the state are doing amazing work and it varies from place to place, as each municipality has its own unique attributes and challenges,” says Julie George, LiveWell Colorado’s HEAL Cities & Towns Campaign Director. “I love La Junta’s plan to install signage at the train stop, informing passengers about where and how close Main Street is. The signs will encourage them to take a short walk, patronize the local businesses, and enjoy a bit of La Junta during their stop. And in Cortez, they’ve changed zoning to allow vegetable gardens in their right of ways and then tied the care and upkeep of these gardens to their summer program for kids. The examples go on and on.”
While the Campaign is made to be flexible in order to work with all municipalities, LiveWell has also placed a particular focus on reaching communities with high poverty levels, where residents are more likely to experience socioeconomic and environmental disadvantages that contribute to poor health.
For example, with 19 percent of its residents living below the poverty level, Commerce City faces a number of challenges from homelessness to economic and food insecurity. “Focusing on health can be a real challenge, especially for those in our community who are struggling to make ends meet,” says City Manager Brian McBroom.
Since joining the HEAL Cities & Towns Campaign in 2013, Commerce City has made great strides to improve quality of life for its residents. “The city has put many of the Campaign’s tenets to use by enacting policies that have resulted in new parks and recreational spaces, an enhanced network of local food pantries, and Complete Streets strategies,” says McBroom. In June 2016, Commerce City became the first municipality to reach Elite status—the highest of four levels in the Campaign. Elite cities are those that have adopted five or more HEAL policies.
Arvada also joined the ranks of Elite cities in October 2016. “Through HEAL Cities & Towns, the city of Arvada has received critical guidance, particularly on ways to increase urban agriculture and healthy food access,” says City Manager Mark Deven. Arvada also secured one of seven HEAL Cities & Towns mini-grants in 2016, which provided funds for the city to conduct a healthy food assessment. “This valuable effort would not be possible without the Campaign’s support, and will go a long way toward helping us reach our goals for creating a healthy, vibrant community,” Deven says.
Colorado Springs, the second-largest city in the state, recently achieved Fit status, the third of four levels in the Campaign. “Since becoming a HEAL city in 2014, Colorado Springs has moved several policies forward and embraced the importance of providing a healthy environment for our residents,” says President Pro Tempore Tem Jill Gaebler. “We formed a Food Policy Advisory Board and are working hard to increase access to healthy food, and have also furthered our active transportation goals by embracing the Complete Streets model.”
“We are grateful to work with so many extraordinary partners around the state, including the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment as well as the Colorado Municipal League and their membership,” says LiveWell President and CEO, Gabriel Guillaume. “Our overall aim is to remove barriers that create health disparities and to support residents with the tools needed to improve the infrastructure that makes physical activity and healthy food options possible. This Campaign leverages the value so many put on equitable access to healthy behaviors and as a result has been an effective method for achieving that goal.”
For more information, including an updated map of all Colorado HEAL Cities & Towns, please visit livewellcolorado.org/healcampaign.