Healthful approach to growth gets look

County’s long-term plan will have chapter dedicated to health

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Clark County officials are making strides in their efforts to improve community health through long-term planning.

About two years ago, county health and planning officials launched a collaborative effort to draft a health element for the county’s comprehensive growth management plan. Today, the draft health element is nearly complete and will soon be ready for community and stakeholder feedback.

State law requires the county to have a growth management plan, but the plan is not required to have a chapter dedicated to health. The county has other elements in the plan that are not required by state law, such as chapters on schools and economic development.

County officials updated Clark County commissioners on the progress of the health element during a meeting Wednesday.

“We’re trying to improve health at the broadest level — public policy,” said Brendon Haggerty with Clark County Public Health.

The health element is centered around the basic premise that “the built environment impacts health,” he said.

The plan is divided into eight categories: transportation; food; safety and social connections; housing; parks; climate change; environment; and economics. The plan includes literature reviews of other communities, current conditions in Clark County and recommendations for policies to promote health and minimize harm for each of the eight categories.

Haggerty highlighted the different categories and how some of the topics, such as housing, even relate to health.

The lack of affordable housing, for example, means people make trade-offs that affect their health, he said. A family may forego gym memberships if they’re paying too much for housing. In Clark County, 43 percent of residents live in unaffordable housing, Haggerty said.

Access to healthful food also affects health. In Clark County, 41 percent of residents live within half a mile of a convenience store or fast-food restaurant, compared with just 17 percent who live near grocery stores, produce stands and farmers markets, he said. When unhealthful options are more convenient than healthful alternatives, people are more likely to

select unhealthful choices, Haggerty said.

Economics are included in the health element because socio-economic status is among the most powerful indicators of health, Haggerty said. Safety concerns will, for some people, determine whether a person goes to a park or not. And people who rely on vehicles for transportation are less likely to get enough physical activity, he said.

Commissioner Steve Stuart cautioned health and planning officials to keep the big picture in mind when drafting policy recommendations.

“There are downstream consequences for everything we do,” Stuart said. “You can’t look at it in a vacuum.”

Once the draft health element is complete, officials will forward the report on to the planning department to incorporate into the comprehensive plan. The plan will receive community feedback and review by the county planning commission and public health advisory council before going to the commissioners for approval.

The comprehensive growth management plan update is scheduled for completion in 2016.

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.