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KPSC Invests $6.2 million to Help Promote Healthy Communities

Three-year investment helps “HEAL Zones” expand healthy living strategies in underserved communities

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As adult obesity rates in California fail to see any significant decline, dozens of community-based organizations, advocacy groups, schools, and others have redoubled their efforts to make their communities healthier, thanks in part to a recent $6.2 million investment by Kaiser Permanente, as part of its HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living) Zones initiative.

An extension of a $7 million commitment in 2012, the new grant will expand and strengthen the existing HEAL interventions for five Southern California collaboratives:  Anaheim Family YMCA, City of Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), City of Ontario, Riverside Community Health Foundation, and Community Health Improvement Partners in San Diego County. Additionally, the organization Community Partners in Los Angeles will receive a $1.2 million grant to provide peer learning and technical assistance to all sites.

HEAL Zones are targeted, underserved areas with high rates of obesity that can be transformed into neighborhoods where everyone has access to healthy food and safe, open spaces to exercise and play. Residents and youth from each community actively participate in their local collaboratives to identify and prioritize community changes to address together. Since the inception of the HEAL program in 2004, communities have seen increased physical activity opportunities, greater availability of healthy food, improvements to their local parks, and a focus on safe places to walk.

“I’m inspired by the consistent level of advocacy that our HEAL Zone resident leaders have demonstrated to influence public safety, food, and physical activity in Lemon Grove,” said Dana Richardson vice president for community health and engagement, Community Health Improvement Partners in San Diego County. “They’ve learned to use their voice, and that is something that carries over… as they continue on their quest to make and keep their communities healthy.”

In San Diego’s Lemon Grove HEAL Zone, community partners and resident leaders worked diligently with their local city council and school district representatives over several months to extend an existing joint use land agreement that provides access to safe, open recreational space in this park-poor region. Thanks to the agreement, community members will have access on Saturdays to a tennis court, basketball courts, a track field and more, located behind the Lemon Grove Recreation Center.

“The city council and school district’s unanimous decision is a huge victory not only for the HEAL Zone project, but for the health of the community,” adds Richardson.

Over the last few weeks, HEAL Zone partners across Southern California, including San Diego, celebrated their Zones’ awards at community events, celebrating successes from their existing work, such as building new playgrounds in local parks (Anaheim), creating accessible walking paths (North Long Beach and Ontario), and securing policy changes to give community members access to safe, open places to play and exercise (Lemon Grove).

“We are thrilled to receive this funding from Kaiser Permanente, which will allow our partners and resident leaders to make the healthy choice the social norm,” said Javier Gonzalez, YMCA Healthy Communities Director at the Anaheim YMCA HEAL Zone check presentation. “From schools and parks to markets and public spaces, our partnership will continue its community transformation efforts to improve people’s health and long-term well-being.”

Each HEAL Zone will also focus on three specific goals over the next three years:

Increase consumption of healthy food and beverages such as fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking water, and decrease calorie consumption, especially sugar-sweetened beverages
Increase physical activity
Improve prevention, treatment, and management of obesity and its related conditions

The vision of the HEAL Zones is that at the end of the initiative, communities will be communities will be able to eat better and move more as part of daily life.

To learn more about Kaiser Permanente’s HEAL Zones and HEAL Zone Initiative, visit http://healzones.org/ and http://community.kp.org/be-informed/program/heal-zones.