by Dr. Mark B. Johnson, Jefferson County Public Health Executive Director
comments open from May 26 until June 14
“The built environment is social policy in concrete.” This pithy definition of human-designed settings comes from Dr. Richard Jackson, a leader in Environmental Health whose career path has included positions as State Health Officer for the state of California, Chair of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of California- Los Angeles, and Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health. The built environment is the environment which we as a society have consciously constructed to fit our needs, and those needs are defined through policies. This includes everything from the size and location of our buildings and roadways, to the location of our water fountains.
As chronic disease and obesity rates continue to rise, there has been a growing awareness of the impact of the built environment on health. A number of organizations, including the CDC, the National Environmental Health Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Planning Association, and the Urban Land Institute have begun to push for policies and built environment decisions that reflect a high value for health. Goals for this work are generally focused on increasing access to healthy food and settings that allow or encourage physical activity. This is often referred to as healthy eating and active living, or HEAL.
Jefferson County Public Health (JCPH) is working towards this across the west-Denver metropolitan area and Front Range mountain towns. The 2013 Community Health Assessment CHA identified a near-doubling of diabetes rates between 2001 and 2010, as well as large increases in obesity. Additionally, there are demographic shifts showing that in the near future, an increasing proportion of Jefferson County residents will be either be senior citizens or youth, both populations particularly vulnerable to health issues due to poor built environments. This gave clear direction to prioritize built environment changes in the 2014-17 Community Health Improvement Plan CHIP. As Colorado’s fourth most populous county, with a land area of over 700 square miles, this was a daunting endeavor.
Jefferson County’s first major foray into HEAL policy, environments, and systems change came through LiveWell Wheat Ridge (LWWR), beginning in 2005. This coalition focused on advancing support for a healthy food system and a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly community. JCPH served as fiscal agent for LWWR, which instilled in the department the technical expertise to work towards policy change, and to develop HEAL coalitions and the desire to scale up this work to the county level.
As a result, JCPH applied to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for funding through the Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, and Pulmonary Disease Prevention (CCPD) grant program in 2012, for a program called “Creating a Culture of Health and Wellness in Jefferson County Through Policy.” Funding was awarded (FY 2012-2015), and was used initially to collect baseline data on existing policies and the climate of opinion towards policy change. This included five HEAL Policy Assessments of local government Comprehensive Plans, and a robust survey of 123 policymakers on their readiness to implement a host of land use, transportation and food policies in Jefferson County. JCPH also formed the countywide HEAL Policy Team, a coalition made of a variety of county departments (Open Space, Transportation and Engineering, Planning and Zoning, CSU-Extension), representation from local municipalities and the mountain communities, Jeffco Public Schools, Centura and Lutheran Health Services, and regional and statewide organizations like Bicycle Colorado, LiveWell Colorado, the Regional Institute for Health and Environmental Leadership, the Colorado Environmental Health Association, and the National Environmental Health Association. This group serves as a steering committee for the grant, creates a forum to shares best practices and lessons-learned, aligns efforts to the JCPH Community Health Improvement Plan, and serves as the convening entity to leverage additional investment for HEAL work in Jeffco. It is also a valuable platform for local coalitions (e.g. LiveWell Wheat Ridge and Arvada Healthy Places Initiative) to connect local work into a regional dialogue.
In early 2014, with this solid base of a developed coalition and an understanding of the existing policy conditions across the county, JCPH was able to support a number of policy changes to support HEAL. The department provided technical assistance, community engagement, and informal education around a number of land use plan updates, and the five major cities in Jefferson County all passed resolutions to join the LiveWell Colorado HEAL Cities & Towns Campaign. JCPH helped draft a number of these resolutions, wrote letters of support, and engaged public comment from interested residents. Now that they have been passed, these resolutions have been a useful tool for keeping up momentum towards HEAL policy change. As an easily shared action plan, the resolutions serve as a reminder to staff and elected officials of the commitment the cities have made to address health.
Additional policy accomplishments for 2014 include:
• Jefferson County Open Space updated their Open Space Master Plan. This new plan includes numerous references to health, and the important role of green space in supporting wellbeing. Jeffco Open Space also initiated a monthly wellness update.
• The City of Arvada adopted an updated Comprehensive Plan. Through a robust community engagement process, and in partnership with the Arvada Healthy Places Initiative, this new plan includes a number of policies that support walking, bicycling and healthy food access.
• The City of Wheat Ridge, at the urging of the Active Transportation Advisory Team, budgeted $100,000 for pedestrian and bicycle work in 2015.
Currently, JCPH is working on the following policy initiatives:
• Inclusion of health policies in the City of Arvada Parks & Recreation Plan
• Inclusion of health policies in the City of Golden Parks & Recreation Plan
• Inclusion of health policies in the City of Lakewood Comprehensive Plan and Sustainability Plan
• Inclusion of pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly policies in the Evergreen Trails Master Plan
• Inclusion of bicycle lanes and traffic calming elements in the Jefferson County Transportation Design and Construction Manual
• Completion of a HEAL Policy Assessment of the Jefferson County Comprehensive Master Plan
• Recommendations for a health coalition, walking and biking assessments, and a healthy food access study in the DRCOG Sustainable Communities Initiative’s Gold Line Corridor Blueprint
• Inclusion of health policies in DRCOG MetroVision 2040
Throughout this work, JCPH’s Environmental Health Services Division has been a critical partner. Specialists and leadership in the division provide guidance on local government planning processes, insight on environmental quality concerns, and comments on potential policy changes. Information is also exchanged with environmental health partners across the region, in quarterly meetings and regular conversations.
In late 2014, JCPH applied for, and was recommended to receive, another three years of CCPD grant funding for FY 2016-2018. JCPH will receive a 333% increase in CCPD funds for this new grant period as compared to 2012-2015. The plan for this new program was developed with regular input from the HEAL Policy Team and other important partners. It seeks to scale up the work of the last three years through more proactive technical assistance, the development of a local HEAL coalition to include low-income residents, the broadening and deepening of the HEAL Policy Team, and the formation of a county-wide Food Policy Council. It will also increase the capacity of local and regional partners to leverage additional HEAL funds from foundations like Kaiser Permanente and The Colorado Health Foundation, and support more robust implementation of the Jeffco Community Health Improvement Plan.
Posted by: Julie | Category: Public Information