Our health is largely influenced by the choices we make, and our ability to make healthy choices depends greatly on conditions in the communities where we live and work. Consider for a moment how your surroundings affect your decisions: Is processed food easier to access than a healthy meal? Are there safe places to walk, run or play an organized sport? When it comes to health, ZIP code can be more important than genetic code.
This is especially true in South Dakota, where the top five leading causes of death are due to chronic disease and an estimated one out of every there adults in the state suffers from multiple chronic conditions. Contributing to these dire statistics are high rates of obesity. Sixty-five percent of adults in the state are overweight or obese while a mere 18 percent meet the daily recommended amount of exercise. The annual cost of lost productivity and medical treatment due to chronic disease in South Dakota, where more than half the population lives in rural areas, is estimated to be up to $7.5 billion.
Because lifestyle choices greatly contribute to the prevalence of chronic conditions, the state of South Dakota — through its Office of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion — launched the Good & Healthy South Dakota website to provide communities with statewide resources on healthy behaviors. The site serves as a central location for chronic disease prevention and health information for communities, schools, workplaces and healthcare organizations, among others.
One of those resources is Healthy HometownSM Powered by Wellmark, a community health improvement initiative developed by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield (Wellmark). Healthy Hometown provides free consultations along with proven tools and techniques that help create healthier neighborhoods and individuals.
In Fort Pierre, Mayor Gloria Hanson was searching for ways to help her town’s residents stay active and healthy. “We know health starts in our homes, schools, workplaces and communities, and so we took a look at our current environment and asked ourselves some important questions. ‘Are our bike trails safe? Are there enough places for families to buy fresh and healthy foods?’” said Hanson. “We recognized that things needed to change, but didn’t have the knowledge or tools to do it alone.”
Hanson turned to Healthy Hometown, and through the initiative, Wellmark assisted Fort Pierre community leaders in developing a plan that they could implement within their timeframe and budget. With a brand new 24-raised bed community garden, Fort Pierre residents now have better access to fresh vegetables. More than 150 senior citizens have benefited from the produce at the community garden through a local senior citizen meal delivery program. Additionally, Fort Pierre started a weekly farmers’ market with 30 vendors and 200–300 attendees each week. And a refurbished walking trail, new bike repair station and 5,300 feet of resurfaced recreational trail are used by approximately 150–200 people daily.
Rapid City’s Live Well Black Hills Coalition, a coalition that works with Black Hills community leaders to educate and activate programs, policies and procedures that help improve the health of their residents, also sought out the Healthy Hometown initiative to help make their city a healthier, more active place to live. Wellmark worked alongside the coalition to enhance community gardens and edible landscaping. The city also improved and expanded an existing trail within the town by widening the path and replacing broken concrete. Through a collaborative effort, four new food pantries were established to collect and distribute healthy food to people in need. Now, the Live Well Black Hills Coalition is sharing its experience and best practices with surrounding communities that are also striving to create healthier hometowns for their residents.
Healthy Hometown works with communities across South Dakota and Iowa. Since 2017, Healthy Hometown has engaged 51 communities across both states, reaching communities that represent 14 percent of the population in South Dakota and 24 percent of the Iowa population. For more info visit Healthy Hometown online at Wellmark.com/HealthyHometown.