Will residents' health be factor in county growth?

Commissioners weigh whether to consider access to parks, healthy food

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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For the first time, community health may be a factor when planning for growth in Clark County.

More than 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. The health component is now complete and awaiting final approval by Clark County commissioners.

Commissioners will hold a public hearing and consider approval at a meeting June 5.

The health element is centered around the basic premise that the built environment impacts health. For example, parks, sidewalks and access to healthy food can reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, said Jonnie Hyde, with Clark County Public Health.

Commissioners could choose to add the health element as its own chapter in the growth plan, integrate the element's goals with other chapters or not include any portion in the final plan.

State law requires the county to have a growth management plan, but the plan is not required to address health. The county's next plan update should be complete by December 2016.

At a recent presentation of the report, Commissioner Marc Boldt said including the health component would challenge the traditional way of doing things in Clark County.

"This would change the way we look at growth management," he said.

The report is divided into eight categories and includes reviews of

other communities, current conditions in Clark County and recommendations for policies to promote health and minimize harm.

Here are the categories and a brief explanation of how they affect overall health:

• Access to healthy food promotes a healthful diet and reduces the risk of chronic diseases, according to the report.

• Active transportation and land use are influenced by the built environment and affect the ability to be physically active, according to the report. For example, people who use transit or who live in walkable neighborhoods are more likely to meet recommended levels of physical activity.

• Parks and open space provide opportunities for physical activity, social interaction and contact with nature.

• Economic opportunity is an important factor for health. Income and educational attainment are powerful predictors of overall health. Societies with more equal incomes tend to have better health, according to the report.

• Affordable, quality housing is necessary for a healthy life, according to the report. When housing is unsafe or unaffordable, families are forced to make trade-offs that negatively impact health.

• Climate change and human health is a global issue but requires local action, according to the report. Health impacts of climate change include injuries from flooding and drought, emergence of new diseases and deaths from extreme heat.

• Environmental quality is a fundamental necessity for good health, according to the report. Clean air and water are vital to preventing disease and protecting the safety of food and water.

• Safety and social connections enable residents to make the most of health-promoting aspects of their neighborhoods. Safe streets and public gathering spaces increase the likelihood of physical activity, according to the report.

The complete report, including goals and methods for improvement, is available on the county website at http://www.clark.wa.gov/public-health/community/growing_healthy/documents.html.

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