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Lima Healthy Living Hubs

By Lima (OH) Mayor David J. Berger
November 1, 2013

The obesity rate in Lima (OH) and surrounding Allen County tops 37 percent – a major driver behind the formation of Activate Allen County (AAC), which has convened local government, business, religious, public health, and other community leaders to develop a community action plan to promote healthy eating and active living. Established in 2011, AAC educates Allen County residents about the impact of public policy, environment and community design on their health and well-being, and directly promotes changes that increase healthy behaviors.

An early AAC challenge was convincing the regional planning authority to disallow developers from skirting existing requirements for sidewalks in new residential developments. Mayors and public health professionals understand how the built environment impacts health, but planning commissions aren’t in the public health business. So AAC made a compelling business case for not granting waivers, demonstrating that the sidewalk requirement was a financial benefit to the developments themselves, as well as the city at large. Their strategy worked – the requirement stood.

AAC also makes presentations to small businesses demonstrating how high levels of obesity and chronic disease place economic burdens on them. Currently, more than 20 local businesses are working with AAC on new/improved workplace wellness programs.

USCM/ABA Childhood Obesity Prevention Grant

AAC’s Healthy Living Hub initiative aims to lower obesity rates, and increase nutrition awareness and access to affordable, fresh produce, for residents in high poverty areas of Lima. Three Healthy Living Hubs, located in areas of Lima identified as ‘food deserts,’ will give residents access to fresh fruits and vegetables delivered weekly via mobile fresh produce bus, as well as nutrition and fitness classes. Schools are an integral part of the initiative – the bus will also make regular visits to local schools, and school district wellness policies will be evaluated for possible improvements.

The initiative has attracted resources from public and private partners. The West Ohio Food Bank, area farmers and local grocery stores will provide produce; the Allen County Regional Transit Authority donated the bus; and local high school students helped design and construction of the bus interior.

Another partner, Husky Energy, gave AAC $20,000 to support Iron Riders, a program which provides bicycles, helmets and vests for teens involved in the juvenile court system. These teens participate in local cycling trips, including one that retraces Ohio’s historic Underground Railroad route, and meet weekly for community service and fitness activities, as well as basic bicycle safety and repair lessons.

Other partners include the Lima City Police Department, which provides unclaimed bikes to each Healthy Living Hub; Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food and Nutrition Policy, which will conduct an evaluation of school districts’ wellness policies; and the Potash Corporation, which committed $100,000 to support the Mobile Produce Program.

Through the 2012 Childhood Obesity Prevention Awards Program, The United States Conference of Mayors and the American Beverage Association (ABA) provided a $100,000 grant to support the initiative – specifically, for conversion of the bus to a mobile produce vehicle, and staff for the mobile produce program and fitness/nutrition classes. The mobile vehicle, dedicated and launched in September, is a retrofitted Regional Transit Authority bus, The Mobile Produce Market, is the realization of an idea to bring fruits and vegetables to areas where access to healthier food alternatives are not readily available, areas more frequently called, “food deserts.” The bus will go into seven targeted areas around Lima and Allen County where access to fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce. The market will be open to all citizens regardless of socioeconomic status. The produce will be offered at a reduced rate. The mobile market is able to accept cash, credit and was recently approved for EBT (electronic benefit transfers).

Lima Mayor David J. Berger has been instrumental in shaping the vision and goals of the initiative. An active AAC member and leader from the outset, he helped identify the need for the Mobile Produce program, actively recruited program partners and alerted AAC to the USCM/ABA grant opportunity. His efforts have resulted collaborations and relationships that have yielded significant levels of investment for the initiative – including a $1.2 million grant in October 2012 from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC.

Lessons Learned:

Convening such a remarkable group of partners had brought significant expertise and resources to AAC and its Healthy Living Hubs program – and also taken a significant amount of time. Nevertheless, AAC feels that the time devoted to building these partnerships is vital. It’s resulted in a strong potential model for promoting healthy lifestyles and behaviors in communities across the nation.