Louisville/Jefferson County Metro is the largest city in Kentucky, a mix of urban, suburban and rural areas along the Ohio River. A recent groundswell of activity around childhood obesity prevention has primed Louisville for real change on the issue. Significant efforts already are under way to develop a network of walking trails and bike paths, support urban gardening and provide children with safe routes to school.
Yet the predominantly White city of 701,000 faces a number of interrelated social, economic and health challenges. The city’s education rates are low; 18 percent of residents 25 and older do not have a high school diploma. Not surprisingly given the high prevalence of obesity among children and adults, its overall death rates for heart disease and stroke are higher than national averages.
The Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness will use funding through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities to target 12 underserved neighborhoods in northwest Louisville and the city’s east downtown. All are older neighborhoods with limited access to fresh, healthy foods as well as safety and environmental problems that discourage physical activity.
The local coalition wants to:
- Provide venues for pedestrian and bicycle transportation routes that connect neighborhoods to recreational, commercial and educational centers;
- Expand outreach efforts and funding sources for Safe Routes to School (SRTS) and institutionalize SRTS strategies within the school system;
- Boost opportunities to grow fresh produce at community gardens and even to exercise at the gardens, and;
- Improve infrastructure, systems and policies to increase healthy food options through corner stores, seasonal and year-round farmers’ markets, mobile markets and other special programs.
Project director Marigny Bostock expects the partnership will “zone in” on the new neighborhoods to quickly begin making an impact. And she’ll measure success “when kids are going into these corner stores we’re hoping to work with and asking for healthier options.”
With enough kids, enough interest and perhaps even growing customer pressure, Bostock envisions this future: Corner stores and other convenience marts will have to cut back on the processed fare and junk food to sell more fresh fruits and vegetables.
“That’s the dream,” she said.