A community can do a lot with a $2.2 million grant.
Just look at what has been accomplished in Columbus in a little more than two years, thanks in part to a $2.2 million federal grant to the Healthy Communities Council for its efforts to turn back the rising tide of obesity.
No one is about to declare “mission accomplished” in assessing the effects of myriad programs launched during the grant period that ended in September, but the results to date show a number of unhealthy trends have been arrested and, in some cases, reversed.
Part of the grant was used to develop grass roots, feel-good programs and events that generated a great deal of excitement and got a lot of attention. They were important in a number of respects, but essentially their greatest impact was in the awareness that was raised throughout the community.
That awareness and excitement certainly were important, but the real accomplishments of the program have to include the institutional changes that have been brought about and the commitment of so many to effect dramatic changes in lifestyle.
The achievements in these areas could fit an important description: lasting.
Although some of the changes that have been brought about might not have been directly related to diet or physical conditioning, they served to be supportive of healthy lifestyles.
The aptly named Safe Routes to School project has been instrumental in making streets, sidewalks and walking paths safer for school children, for instance, but it also emphasized the rewards that can be achieved for children by walking or biking to school and burning calories in the process.
Local schools have changed dietary guidelines — abandoning fryers, for instance, in the preparations of cafeteria meals and increasing servings of fruits and vegetables — and have adopted practices that support healthy lifestyles. Rejected, for instance, has been the practice of restricting recess as a form of punishment, an acknowledgement that such a denial works against physical development.
Several local businesses have adopted their own in-house exercise programs, and many more have initiated participatory events that promote healthy diets and
The introduction of the Dancing C bike racks throughout the city has served as a subtle message for residents about the benefits of biking. It also reminds us of the city’s focus on developing bike paths as part of road projects, making that form of exercise safer and more accessible.
A recent survey conducted for the Healthy Communities initiative indicated that obesity continues to be a major problem in this community, but those results should not be taken as a sign that the grant has not produced positive results.
This particular undertaking will not be accomplished overnight or even in a matter of a few years. Those looking for instant gratification are fooling themselves. Achievements can be attained only throughout a long period and by dramatically changing not only lifestyles but community attitudes.
It appears that this community has only set out on that path during the past two years, but it has done so in a manner that promises results.