Health Zone 1: It is the urban core of Jacksonville, an area where 40 percent of children live in poverty and 100 percent of residents live in distressed neighborhoods. It is a place where crime is high, and traffic is fast and heavy, and children risk their safety simply by walking to school. Messages are never subtle here, from the barrage of snack and fast-food advertising on billboards and convenience store windows, to the playgrounds that are locked immediately after school ends in the afternoon.
At least for now. Within several years, this community may represent a much different frontier.
The initiative Healthy Kids, Healthy Jacksonville is intent on showing how Health Zone 1 can be made to live up to its name. Led by the Duval County Health Department, its focus will be policy and environmental changes that will remove the barriers to healthy eating and physical activity in the primarily African-American community.
The lessons learned here will then be used to power the same effort in five other health zones, with a goal of dramatically helping children citywide.
“Health Zone 1 is the toughest nut to crack—a small area, with a dense population and a lot of challenges. If we can make sustainable policy changes here, we can take this example to other areas as a model of what we can do,” project director Karen Coleman said. “Essentially, it will be a lab for the rest of Jacksonville.”
With funding through Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities, the county health department and its partners in the initiative will use GIS (geographic information system) mapping to identify neighborhoods’ needs and inequities in accessing healthy foods. The area’s walkability and bikability will be assessed, too. A detailed blueprint for Health Zone 1 will follow, with an array of likely actions:
- Establishing a food policy council to make recommendations for expanding access to the city’s food system
- Connecting farmers' markets to corner stores, churches, parks sites, schools and public housing and enabling food stamps to be used to purchase fruits and vegetables at those markets
- Establishing joint-use agreements to allow the public access to school recreation facilities outside of school hours
- Preventing crime by designing parks and recreation sites in a way that enhances safety.
Community youth will be an integral part of the discussion, in keeping with a local project that gives cameras to elementary and middle school students so that they can photograph health-related issues close to home. The initiative also will benefit from the work of the Healthy Jacksonville Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition, which was instrumental in the recent development of a comprehensive community plan for addressing childhood obesity.
“While healthy eating and physical activity may not be the priority issues in these distressed communities, issues like crime, transportation, access and safety are. We plan to address all of these issues from the healthy-eating-active-living vantage,” Coleman said.