State Health Campaign Seeks Salisbury Involvement

SALISBURY — The Maryland branch of a national health and wellness campaign met with the Salisbury City Council last week to discuss a partnership with the aim of lowering obesity rates in the community.
The Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Cities and Towns Campaign, which in this state is a partnership between the Institute for Public Health Innovation and the Maryland Municipal League, met with the council on Nov. 18 and asked Salisbury to join four other Maryland towns which have signed on.
“You, as local government leaders, have a role to play to assure that these obesity rates do not continue to rise,” said Marissa Jones, a representative for HEAL.
Obesity rates in the nation and statewide have been seeing a steady and alarming rise over the past few decades. In youth, especially, rates have spiked.
“Obesity increased four-fold in 30 years for these young kids, ages 6 to 11,” said Jones.
By 2030, HEAL expects that nearly 60 percent of Marylanders of all ages could suffer from obesity and the host of health problems associated with it like diabetes, heart disease and a general shortening of life expectancy. In fact, according to Jones, the current generation might be one of the first in recent memory to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, mainly attributable to preventable health issues like obesity.
“In Maryland, the costs related to obesity total up to $3 billion a year,” she said. “For me, that’s a really big number to wrap my head around, so bringing that down, that’s the equivalent of $561 per person.”
In response, the HEAL campaign is moving all over Maryland trying to make healthy communities easier for the people who live there. Services are free, with HEAL helping municipalities draft resolutions that outline the projects their residents want to see most. Things like more bike lanes and farmers markets are popular, and easy, steps to improving an area’s overall health.
HEAL also works to facilitate partnerships between like-minded municipalities that may share goals and obstacles.
“One of our biggest strengths, we’ve found, is creating peer learning communities,” said Jones.
As an area becomes healthier, people live longer, quality of life improves and business can boom as population is attracted, she added. And once a municipality has joined HEAL, the organization tries to promote the efforts being made through the web and media.
“We want to help you and then we want to help you get recognized for the good work that you’re doing,” Jones told the council, asking that they try to put together a list of three priority policies in the coming weeks that can be turned into a resolution.
The council indicated early enthusiasm for HEAL, though no actions were taken. One area where the council may want to tread lightly, according to Councilwoman Terry Cohen, is in jumping in with both feet immediately. She cautioned the group not to enter into any resolutions without knowing the full ramifications.
“I’m just saying, from the standpoint of language and what the resolution represents, we want to be clear that we’re pursuing this aspect of something, rather than necessarily signing on to a complete vision of a particular national or international organization because we may find that there are things in there that aren’t part of our vision,” she said.
That’s unlikely to be an issue in this case, replied Council President Jake Day. Everything HEAL is offering is free and the policies that they want to see made into resolutions are not coming from the organization but from Salisbury itself. But he did note Cohen’s warning.
The council is expected to draft a list of city health priorities and return those for discussion at a future meeting.