EAST Students for Healthy Communities

The EAST Initiative is pleased to feature Dr. Joe Thompson, Arkansas Surgeon General and Director of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI), as a guest blogger this month. EAST is partnering with ACHI for the 2013 – 2014 EAST National Service Project.

Dr. Joe Thompson Arkansas Surgeon General

Dr. Joe Thompson
Arkansas Surgeon General

I am Surgeon General for the state of Arkansas, Director of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, and a pediatrician. More importantly, I’m a dad concerned about the world my kids and you will inherit. That’s why I’m excited that the 2013-2014 EAST National Service Project is focusing on health and wellness. As a pediatrician, I have seen too many young people whose lives are not what they should be because of poor health – mostly because of obesity.

Did you know that more than one out of every three Arkansas kids are overweight or obese? Or that obesity has increased 80 percent in the last 15 years and can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, liver problems, asthma, heart conditions, low self-esteem and depression? Luckily, this doesn’t have to happen. These diseases can be stopped by healthier lifestyles.

Why do we have this problem? Without meaning to, we let progress and convenience create communities that don’t support healthy lifestyles. Most foods we have easy access to are unhealthy.  How many times have you stopped to grab a quick bite at a fast-food restaurant without thinking about how healthy it was? How many times have you walked or ridden a bike lately – or played a physically active game? Limited access to sidewalks and parks, and safety concerns, makes physical activity hard to include in our daily lives. No access to affordable nutritious foods and safe places for physical activity is an even bigger problem in poor communities and in many African American and Hispanic communities.

We need to turn this around by taking action to create communities where the healthy choice is the easy choice. Students can play an important part in developing healthy communities. Last year we started working with EAST on a new program called Students for Healthy Communities. We asked students to put their talents to work on projects that help make their communities (homes, schools, neighborhoods, towns) healthier places to live, learn and play. This year’s National Service Project focus on health and wellness is a perfect match for continuing the work of building healthy communities.

Students for Healthy Communities is part of a movement in our state that includes more healthy food options in schools and funds for joint use agreements that make school playgrounds, gyms and sports fields available to the community outside of school hours. EAST students are already making a difference by partnering with others involved in another program called Growing Healthy Communities where community members across Arkansas work together to create healthy opportunities for all Arkansans, young and old.

EAST students have a real opportunity to make their communities better by joining this movement and creating unique and sustainable ideas for their own communities. And EAST students can develop knowledge and skills they’ll need as adults. Examples of question students can address include:

  • What do the neighborhoods in your community look like? Are there safe places for people to walk and bike easily? What kinds of grocery stores and restaurants are available and how far are they from residential areas?
  • What types of resources are available in your school or community that promote physical activity (for example: playgrounds, courts, sports equipment, parks)?  Are these places easily accessible and safe?
  • What types of policies does your school have in place to promote physical activity and healthy eating (for example: required PE classes, recess, vending machine policies)?
  • Do people feel comfortable walking around your neighborhood? What is in your neighborhood that makes people feel comfortable or uncomfortable (for example: no sidewalks, no lighting of sidewalks, crime)?
  • What kinds of healthy foods and physical activities are available at your school or near your house? Are you able to easily access these things?
  • Are there events in your community that promote healthy living?
  • What might your school do differently to promote a healthy community?

What does a healthy community mean to you? What do you want it to be like? Can you use your talents and resources to create solutions that work for people in your community? It takes just a small step to get the ball rolling, but we need students to think big and look for ways to make your work successful  for the future. What happens after a 5K event or a health fair? How will EAST students make sure good health remains important?

So how about it? Will you help make your community a healthier place to live? I’m looking forward to seeing the great results I know you can achieve.

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