Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods' plans encourage exercise, wholesome foods

Thursday, May 27, 2010 | 10:39 p.m. CDT; updated 11:10 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 27, 2010

COLUMBIA — With a $400,000 grant, the PedNet Coalition hopes to fight childhood obesity.

At a Unite 4 Healthy Neighborhoods event held Thursday night at the Columbia Boone County Health and Human Services building, roughly 60 community members and leaders made plans to increase physical activity and access to healthy foods in the community.

Participants also sought to strengthen communities, which would improve safety and help neighborhood associations gain political access.

"Our goal today is to create a checklist of special actions to take," said Sam Robinson, a co-chair for U4HN during the meeting. Later, participants broke into groups and identified goals for the U4HN program, listed below:

Identifying community food needs

  • Establish a council to examine food policy in Columbia
  • Use geographic models to find places with limited access to healthy foods

Food production at home and in the community

  • Give tours of community gardens
  • Work with the city government on land and water issues for urban farming
  • Offer workshops on urban agriculture and raising chickens

Access to affordable local food

  • Help develop the "Access to Healthy Foods" program, which aims to double the value of food stamps at the Columbia Farmers Market
  • Research successful youth-run gardens and start a similar program in Columbia

Revitalize neighborhood associations

  • Work to get the Bear Creek and Downtown neighborhood associations officially recognized by the city
  • Research street closures for community activities
  • Cooperate with police and form neighborhood watch programs

Expand public transportation

  • Develop transit maps based around access to food
  • Research transit policy

Youth outreach

  • Research successful youth activities

The diverse background of U4HN participants prompted a wide range of goals including increasing public youth activities, fostering safe environments and improving bike travel.

Robinson said the meeting's results exceeded his expectations, though he said affecting policy would be a challenge.

"We want to sustain it through existing policies that we implement," Robinson said.

U4HN is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the Healthy Kids Healthy Communities program and is adminstered by PedNet's Healthy Environment Policy Initiative. Additional funding from the Missouri Foundation for Health's Healthy and Active Communities and the Federal Department of Health and Human Services will support U4HN's community programming.

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