Davis is making a move to encourage healthy lifestyles among its citizens.
Earlier this month, the city joined the statewide Healthy Eating Active Living Cities Campaign, HEAL, in an effort to reduce local obesity and physical inactivity rates.
In a state where over half of adults are obese or overweight, a California Center for Public Health Advocacy study reported that the state is spending upwards of $41 billion each year in related costs. HEAL will assist Davis in planning and policy development.
The campaign focuses on making the most of surrounding land to create an environment that fosters a physically active community. HEAL teaches municipal governments to better understand their role in the community, primarily in land-use policies – how the built-in environment influences the daily choices people make.
“People will walk to places if they are close enough,“ said Francesca Wright of HEAL. “They will choose healthy foods if they are closer than junk food. The proximity of junk food with obesity rates shows there is a very strong correlation.“
Locally, expensive programs or gym memberships are not necessarily required to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
“It doesn’t take any money to get off our chair and walk or ride a bike,” Wright said. “Or for university students to allow the time to walk or bike.“
Davis already has a strong foundation. The network of parks, trails, bike paths and outdoor markets is already in place, and is being prepared for even further improvements.
The City of Davis believes that giving residents a push in the right direction will spark a transformation into a community culture with lifestyles that include healthy choices. Several simple changes throughout the community will promote residential health.
“An easy change, for instance, would be replacing the junk food at checkout lines with fresh, ripe fruit eliminates the temptation to grab a candy bar,“ Wright said.
Mayor Pro Tempore Don Saylor said that the goals include enhancing Davis‘ bicycle identity, increasing street safety, and strengthening the focus on local food programs. Supporting local agriculture and expanding the number of farmers markets in the area, such as adding one in Winters, are also possible ideas.
“Davis is well positioned,” he said. “That establishes a base for future actions.“
Several obstacles that other communities face have already been addressed in Davis. Some cities have few alternatives to high-calorie, high-fat foods, yet Davis already has a firm connection with local produce and farmers markets.
Well-planned streets would make safety a high priority, which would in turn encourage walking and biking as opposed to vehicle traffic. Closer proximity between neighborhoods, grocery stores and schools is also a factor.
Davis‘ membership in HEAL allows it to connect with other cities and share ideas.
“The exciting part is bringing together ideas from other communities,” Saylor said. “Wherever we turn, other cities are doing things we can learn from and a network talking to one another about ways to encourage a healthy lifestyle. The professional people involved in HEAL bring us ideas as well as networking. This is a strong point.“
For example, in Richmond there is a teaching garden for preschool children. Saylor said that although Davis has a community garden on Fifth Street, it would be interesting to think about whether such a thing would be a possibility.
Education is another aspect of the campaign, especially in the young demographic.
In a community that already has solid land-use policies, a commission or advisory body is the next step. The formation of a task force to address and explore these issues is under strong consideration.
“Examining land use is incorporated into long-term infrastructure planning. Times when financial resources are limited are great opportunities to plan. For example, when commercial and residential buildings are combined in the same area, mixed-use areas translate into a vibrant downtown, a vibrant economy, awareness on streets, less crime and increased social interaction,“ Wright said. “Davis has done an extraordinary job.”
Compared to West Sacramento and Woodland, Davis has the lowest obesity rate among fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders. This can be attributed to the activity that kids are already involved in – like sports – and their perception of safety. Davis also has the economic ability to provide for kids, whereas the poverty rates in Woodland and West Sacramento are higher.
Of fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders in Davis, 14.3 percent are overweight, while Woodland and West Sacramento each come in at about 31 percent, according to a study by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
In California as a whole, 28.1 percent of children in the same age group are overweight while 26.1 percent are overweight in Yolo County only.
POOJA KUMAR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.