Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Plan4Health: 'We all have a common goal of increasing well-being'

When it comes to bridging the gap between planning and health, it’s all about relationships.

That was the message from local project managers who spoke at a Tuesday Annual Meeting session titled “Plan4Health: Linking Public Health and Planning to Build Improvement in Health.”

“One-on-one, personal building relationships, makes all the difference,” said Alex Smith, who manages the Active Transportation Program for the city of Columbus, Ohio.

He’s one of the people participating in APHA’s new and very cool Plan4Health partnership with the American Planning Association. The program, which brings together APHA state and local Affiliates with American Planning Association state chapters, launched in March and has this vision: full integration of planning and public health where people live, work and play.

Current local Plan4Health projects focus on nutrition and physical activity, and a new round of projects is set to start in January. One of the projects highlighted at today’s session, the Trenton Healthy Communities Initiative, leverages a health-in-all-policies approach as “a timely strategy for addressing the web of social determinants that impact health and equity,” said presenter Tito Gezmu of the New Jersey Public Health Association.

As Anna Ricklin of the American Planning Association told session audience members, health in all planning policies is the goal. Ideally, planning should become a public health intervention, said Ricklin, who praised APHA’s involvement in the groundbreaking project.

“We couldn’t do this without APHA members,” she said.

A great example of how the local projects are using planning to improve health: pop-up traffic calming demonstrations. In St. Louis, 27 percent of residents take part in no leisure-time physical activity, said presenter Grace Kyung, a bicycle and pedestrian planner at TrailNet. Yet 80 percent of them live within a half-mile of a park. One problem? Unsafe streets hinder access to parks.

The traffic calming demonstrations took the shape of colorfully painted giant tires, plants, and other elements placed at dangerous intersections throughout the city. As project planners tracked speed and stop sign compliance at the sites, they also had a chance to survey local residents and get input on safer community design.

Overall, Plan4Health zeroes in on improving nutrition and physical activity while also promoting health equity. It makes sense that public health and planning should work together, Ricklin said.

“We all have a common goal of increasing well-being.”

— D.C.

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