County growth planners take health into account

Access to food, activity is a consideration

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

Public meetings

Clark County is hosting Growing Healthier forums to gather feedback on how to promote and protect health. The information will be used to help the county shape the new health element for the comprehensive growth management plan.

The forums are 5 to 7 p.m. today at Battle Ground Community Center, 912 E. Main St.; and 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. May 25 at Vancouver Housing Authority, 2500 Main St., Vancouver.

Health survey

Sixty-four percent of Clark County adults and 23 percent of local 10th-graders are overweight or obese. Thirty-five percent of Clark County residents live within a half-mile of a fast-food restaurant or convenience store; only 15 percent live near a grocery store or supermarket.

Those worrisome statistics, among others, prompted Clark County health and planning officials to launch a collaborative effort to improve community health.

Public meetings

Clark County is hosting Growing Healthier forums to gather feedback on how to promote and protect health. The information will be used to help the county shape the new health element for the comprehensive growth management plan.

The forums are: n 5 to 7 p.m. today at Battle Ground Community Center, 912 E. Main St. n 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. May 25 at Vancouver Housing Authority, 2500 Main St., Vancouver.

A survey is also available at http://www.clark.wa.gov/public-health/living/growinghealthier.html.

Health and planning officials are working together to draft a health element of the county’s comprehensive growth management plan. State law requires the county have a growth management plan, but the plan is not required to have a chapter dedicated to health.

A survey by the American Planning Association found that of 890 respondents only 23 jurisdictions had a stand-alone health element in their comprehensive plan.

“It establishes how important (health) is to the community,” said Colete Anderson, county planner. “What we’re saying is, health is important to Clark County for a lot of different reasons.”

The county has other elements in the plan that are not required by state law, such as chapters on schools and economic development, Anderson said.

The health chapter will include strategies and policies to improve the health of people in Clark County.

Health officials are researching the possibility of expanding the chapter to include access to nutritious food, parks and open space, safe neighborhoods, access to medical services, environmental quality, affordable and accessible housing, and walkable neighborhoods.

The county is beginning to collect community feedback to determine what residents feel is important to include in the chapter. The county will hold two Growing Healthier forums and has put a survey on its website.

Once feedback is gathered, the county will draft the plan’s health element. After public hearings and review by the planning commission, the chapter will go to Clark County commissioners for adoption.

Officials hope to incorporate the health element into the next comprehensive growth management plan update, scheduled for completion in 2014.

The growth management plan includes policies on environment, land use, housing, transportation and parks, among other topics. The “built environment” has a significant impact on the health of a community, said Oliver Orjiako, director of Clark County Community Planning.

“When you talk about the environment, you can’t really do it without talking about the health of the community,” he said.

“There’s a direct correlation between how healthy a community is and how it grows,” Anderson added.

If neighborhoods don’t have safe walking routes, people are more likely to drive than walk, said Dr. Alan Melnick, county health officer. If people don’t have access to affordable, nutritious food, they’re less likely to eat healthfully, he said.

Access to parks, open spaces, stores and other destinations within walking distance of home encourages people to be active, said Brendon Haggerty, healthy communities project coordinator for the county.

“It’s the environment you’re in that shapes your behavior,” said Jonnie Hyde, healthy communities manager for the county. “The choices you make are shaped by the choices you have.”

The policies included in the health element will likely apply to the entire county, Anderson said. That means each jurisdiction within the county will interpret the policies and take action based on its needs, she said.

Some of the policies in the element could result in immediate changes. Others, like capital projects, could take years before funding could be acquired and construction could begin, Anderson said.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.