GOVERNING Summit on Healthy Living: NewPublicHealth Q&A with Erin Waters

Dec 13, 2011, 7:14 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

Where else will you see a room full of such diverse professional titles as Health Action Liaison, Senator Presiding Judge, Livability Educator, School Board Member, Development Planner and Mayor? Last week in Atlanta, more than 60 people from across sectors gathered for the GOVERNING Summit on Healthy Living to discuss best practices for developing healthier cities and regions, with an eye towards social factors in the community that influence health outcomes, including transportation, public safety, education and nutrition.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Erin Waters, GOVERNING Associate Publisher and conference organizer, about the key conversations that took place at the conference, and the future of this broad collaboration between state and local government and leaders from a variety of sectors across the nation.

NewPublicHealth: What is the GOVERNING Summit on Healthy Living about, and why did you decide to host a summit on this topic?

Erin Waters: GOVERNING is a publication that was started 25 years ago by the publisher of Congressional Quarterly. CQ is a beltway publication that has a focus on Congress and Capitol Hill, and he felt no one was really covering the states and localities, from the management, policy and leadership perspective—who’s doing what well, what’s working and not working, and what are the big issues and how do we work on fixing them collectively, through multiple sectors of government. In that vein, we identify for our coverage, we identify issues facing our readership. We see healthy living as not just a food and nutrition issue, but as more of a four-prong issue involving transportation, public safety, education and health, nutrition and public health. We wanted to gather a group of individuals together in that light to talk about the outcome of obesity and the cost it has to governments, the impact on their citizens, and what they can do collectively throughout government to change this issue.

NPH: What were some of the key conversations, themes and action items that came out of the conference?

Erin Waters: In the morning, Ron Sims [former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and former County Executive for King County,WA] kicked it off with a very inspiring opening statement. The interesting thing I found is that because it is such a personal issue and it impacts families, it was interesting to see people talk both from a government standpoint of what the cost is and what the pressures are and what they need to do to provide better services, but also personally their own struggles and challenges with this issue and the health impact. From there, the morning was dedicated to the issue of nutrition and food. Valerie Brown [Supervisor of Sonoma County and Advisor to the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health, which will provide recommendations and advice to the Surgeon General’s National Prevention, Health Promotion, and Public Health Council on the National Prevention Strategy] spoke about a partnership she’s working on from the county perspective, and then we had the mayors’ panel, where the mayors spoke about how they’re addressing the issue.

The afternoon was more focused on livable community planning and how does a community get set up to promote healthier living and active lifestyles—policy, partnerships and collaboration.

NPH: What’s an example of some of the innovative initiatives presented at the conference?

Erin Waters: It was interesting, the way we structured these, the audience is as much a part of the panel as the people who kick off the discussions. In the mayor’s panel they talked about very big things they’ve done—what Mick Cornett [Mayor of Oklahoma City] had done with partnering with Taco Bell, and how they put the city on a diet and how he pledged for the city to lose a million pounds and at the end of January they think they will hit that goal—then this woman spoke up, Mayor Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, MI, and said if you’re in a smaller community and you don’t have a lot of attention and a lot of money and a lot of resources, you can just serve as an example of doing something better. She said, once a week I do Mayor Walks where they know I’m at the park and anyone from any sector in the government or any legislator or anybody in the community can meet with me and walk with me and talk about their issues. She said you wouldn’t imagine the number of people who come out. Some people come and they just want to walk together, and some people come because they have issues they want to address with me. But she said, I think that alone sets the tone of putting time aside for [physical activity and health].

I liked that idea because it was something very simple. It doesn’t always have to be this complex policy issue, which is important too, but that can coincide with something that just serves as a good example.

NPH: Who attended the conference?

Erin Waters: There was a large group.More than 60 individuals attended, including a mix of about 10 legislators from a variety of states, mayors from big and small cities, urban planners, transportation officials, public health officials, superintendents, a couple of principals of schools—it was quite a group. Afterwards we had a small reception and people said they had never sat in a room with an urban planner. We had the president of the Los Angeles Planning Commission, and he was hugely influential in his discussion on how a city is designed and set up for people to move. Legislators were able to ask lots of questions and get other ideas. It was our inaugural year, so there’s definitely lots to build on, but we were really excited about how it came about.

NPH: What do you hope will come out of this conference?

Erin Waters: What we’re doing as a follow-up, because we don’t want to just have the event and then come back a year later, our editorial staff is writing a four-page supplemental piece that will go in the magazine with recommendations based on the policy discussion and innovation and collaboration in transportation, public safety and all of these areas—what were the good ideas and what are the next action items a community can take to move this issue. That will likely be in our March issue.

We’re very proud of this. Great content and great ideas come out of these discussions. We’re also trying to put people in connection with each other to help move these issues further along. We hope people will think across the isles and across areas of government and outside government, where they actually do align on an issue and they may just not be aware of it.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.