I was recently asked to serve on an advisory committee for a new program sponsored by the Oregon Public Health Institute, Kaiser Permanente, and the League of Oregon Cities, entitled the “HEAL Cities Campaign.” HEAL stands for Healthy Eating Active Living, and I am a strong supporter of its goals.
Many of the policies the campaign is advocating are things we have done in Albany for a number of years. We have supported the Farmers’ Market, provided space for community gardens, built good bicycle and pedestrian facilities, provided wellness incentives for employees, and led the Safe Routes to School program. Despite what I believe is a good record on these issues, there is more we might consider.
HEAL focuses on both the community and the City as an organization by emphasizing four areas of concern: 1) Land Use and Transportation; 2) Access to Healthy Food Options; 3) Shared Use Agreements; and 4) Workplace Wellness and Nutrition Standards. Albany is already a leader in several of these areas, but we probably have the most work to do in Areas 2 and 4.
HEAL is advocating for policies that would increase physical activity in the workplace, such as walking meetings and designated activity breaks. The campaign also calls for healthy snack choices that would set nutrition standards for food and beverages sold on city property. I would benefit from the latter policy because I have found myself giving into the temptation of an afternoon soda on too many occasions in recent months. These are the type of decisions that I believe should be made collaboratively, and the HEAL campaign suggests establishing a Workplace Wellness Committee to work through the issues.
The most difficult task for us would seem to be improving affordable access to healthy foods throughout the community. Our Village Center Plan helped bring a full-service grocery store to North Albany, but there are too many neighborhoods (including mine) where it is much closer to fast food options than it is to healthy choices. I should make it clear that I like many fast foods, and I am not a fan of proposals to compel restrictions. I do support, however, efforts to increase the availability and affordability of healthy options. We are facing a pandemic of obesity and diabetes that threatens both individual and societal health. I also think we need to recognize that the billions of dollars spent to promote unhealthy foods are working, particularly on our children.
I do not think the HEAL Cities Campaign calls for much additional work in Albany. It does provide additional information and should help us make some decisions about appropriate policies for the community and workplace. The first advice our advisory committee provided to campaign organizers was to take a positive approach to the issue. I believe the consortium accepted that suggestion, and it’s one I hope we can practice here as well.