MARQUETTE - Health can be a state of being: you're sick or you're not. But a person's overall health is greatly impacted by the choices they make, and one local group has been working to make the healthiest choice the easy choice.
In 2010, a group representing Marquette County traveled to San Diego for a conference organized by a number of groups, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to learn about how policy change can help make communities healthier. That group is still at work.
"Without changes in health policy and the environment, long term success for organizations and individuals is very difficult," said George Sedlacek of the Marquette County Health Department, one of the ACHIEVE (Action Communities for Health, Innovation and Environmental Change) team leaders.
Special lanes for bicyclists on vehicle roadways are one good example of the kind of public policy decisions that can have a positive impact on the health of local residents. (Journal file photo)
Since returning from San Diego, the group has been busy supporting and promoting a number of projects, all designed to help make Marquette County a healthier place to live.
"Policies are difficult to change but yet several have been made already that are enhancing our environment for improvements both in nutrition and fitness," Sedlacek said.
Three area municipalities - the city of Marquette, Marquette Township and the city of Ishpeming - have drafted and instituted complete streets policies, which take into account all users of a street, not just vehicles.
Increasing the number of sidewalks and bike paths makes it possible for people to get places by walking or biking, which helps incorporate physical activity into peoples' daily lives.
In addition, the ACHIEVE team has been working to support and encourage use of area farmers markets, including the markets in Gwinn and Negaunee, as well as supporting hoop house projects at the Aspen Ridge school, the Marquette Alternative High School and in Marquette Township. Community gardens have also received ACHIEVE support in Ishpeming and Marquette.
Safe Routes To School projects at several districts around the county have also been a project of the ACHIEVE team.
"For the first time ever, there will be a safer crosswalk that will permit pedestrian travel between north and south Ishpeming," Sedlacek said of the Safe Routes to School project in Ishpeming. "No longer will it be a requirement that you have to get in a car to visit a park in one part of town."
This summer, the ACHIEVE team turned its attention to The Mining Journal's Healthy Weight Journal Community Wellness Challenge, which allows all of the county's residents to participate in a healthy living program. The program, which runs into September, provides group exercise activities and weekly informational sessions to help get people informed about creating a healthy diet.
Although the team has focused a great deal of its attention on the wider community, organizations and businesses with representatives on the team have also made changes to improve health, said team co-leader Lisa Coombs-Gerou, chief executive officer of the Marquette County YMCA.
"Several participating organizations have made significant changes: removing soda machines, eliminating trans fats from the cafeterias and giving flex time for fitness (to employees)," Coombs-Gerou said.
The team, which sent 10 members to San Diego, has expanded to include a larger cross-section of the community from school representatives to local government officials to local business owners.
"One of the nice additions has been some of the restaurants, with the Border Grill and now the Wild Rover offering right size portions. It's great," Coombs-Gerou said.
The Community Wellness Challenge has become one of the focuses for the ACHIEVE team's Nutrition Committee this summer.
"We want to expand the scope of this already successful program to have an impact on a larger number of people from a variety of communities," said Natasha Gill, a member of the committee and outreach and education director for the Marquette Food Co-op. "We want to help people be healthy and stay that way."
The hope is that the Community Wellness Challenge doesn't just help people be healthy for the duration of the program, but even after the program ends, Gill said.
Officially a three-year commitment to the ACHIEVE program, Sedlacek, Coombs-Gerou and Gill said they hoped to see the work done by the ACHIEVE team continue far into the future.
"The idea is that once the policies are in place, there will not be a need for more meetings to the degree we now are," Sedlacek said of the team's monthly meetings. "Policies are sustainable where programs usually have a more difficult time."
"The key is policy change. ACHIEVE uses policy change as a means of creating positive ... impacts in our communities. We know that policy change leads to behavior change, but it takes time for this to happen. ACHIEVE will remain a driving force behind the development of health policy in Marquette County communities for years to come," she said.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.