Governor announces a plan to make Arkansas healthier | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Governor announces a plan to make Arkansas healthier

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2015 at 3:50 PM

click to enlarge healthy.jpg

Gov. Asa Hutchinson
announced this afternoon a 10-year plan, Healthy Active Arkansas, to fight obesity and make Arkansas healthier.

The plan focuses on these nine areas:

* Physical and Built Environment
* Nutritional Standards in Government, Institutions and the Private Sector.
* Nutritional Standards in Schools—Early Child Care Through College.
* Physical Education and Activity in Schools—Early Child Care Through College
* Healthy Worksites
* Access to Healthy Foods
* Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Reduction
* Breastfeeding
* A marketing Program.

The plan can be viewed and downloaded by visiting www.healthyactive.org.

The plan details specific plans in each area, with timetables to achieve them. It includes talk of providing unspecified resources to meet some aims. Others fall in the encouragement category. For example, an excerpt from the first area, on environment:

Strategies and Action Steps

1. Create communities that are denser and more connected and livable, incorporating mixed-use neighborhoods, safety, walkability and access to schools and other positive destinations and healthy food options.

a. Provide resources, technical assistance and education to the community on policy, environmental and systems changes 5 YRS

b. Create master community, park and recreational facility plans that encourage physical activity 10 YRS

c. Create master pedestrian and bike plans at community level that connect to AR State Highway Dept. Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan 10 YRS

d. Develop plans and policies to create public spaces for people using all forms of mobility (wheelchair, stroller, bicycle, etc.) 10 YRS

I like a mention of "health impact assessments" in highway design. How about fewer freeways and more streets designed with bike paths and sidewalks that encourage active living?

There's a lot of government oversight anticipated — such as health and sustainability guidelines for federal concessions and vendors. It's striking how often government influence is mentioned, given that government regulation and oversight is not often highly valued in the current political climate.

There'd be mandatory nutrition education in schools. The project would aim to end food "deserts" and encourage local gardens. The plan calls for getting more children in federal school nutrition programs and greater participation in all USDA programs (food stamps, in other words.)

Coke and Pepsi will be interested in the goal of reducing sugar-sweetened beverage consumption, but the suggested model contracts for government vendors likely only means they'll have to sell more bottles of water and fruit juice. The plan also talks about limiting portion size at government outlets for such drinks.

At the news conference, Hutchinson touted the benefits of healthier people — including to businesses with more productive workers and lower health costs; a reduced burden on the health care system by reduction of chronic diseases such as diabetes, and the marketing allure of a healthier state. As it stands, Arkansas ranks near the bottom (the very bottom in obesity) in health, along with many other poor states.

Surgeon General Gregory Bledsoe said it would take participation by all to advance. Bledsoe will lead a consortium to implement the plan including the Health Department, UAMS, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, the Arkansas Minority Health Commission, Baptist Health and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.

First task: Hire someone to coordinate the plan's implementation. A marketing plan is in the works. I don't have an estimate on initial costs, though a program director and marketing clearly will incur some costs.

Leadership by example is never a bad thing and Hutchinson himself gets around a basketball court pretty well for a geezer (about my age). This also need not be rocket science. Eat in moderation, with an emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables. Get regular physical activity daily (a 30-minute walks does wonders, all the evidence shows). If you drink, do so moderately. Use medicine for prevention, not only for emergency intervention. Get plenty of sleep. Teach children about good habits in school. Encourage mothers to breast feed. Design cities that encourage healthy behavior.

All this is easy to say. But old habits die hard.

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