Typically, about 100 people sign up for a 5K event at Waterfall Park in Independence.

Typically, about 100 people sign up for a 5K event at Waterfall Park in Independence.


One Independence Health Department staff member says she would have been satisfied with that many registering for the free Independence Park Trot on April 21.


As of Monday, nearly 400 people had registered for the family-friendly walk/run, said Christina Verren, project coordinator for Building a Healthier Independence.


“If you want to run it, we’ll put you up front. If you want to walk it with your kids, we’ll be happy to have you out there – just any way to get people out moving along the trails.”


Building a Healthier Independence now consists of two grants, and the Health Department was awarded more than $1 million to continue the initiative for five years. Its objectives are increasing physical activity; increasing healthy food choices; decreasing tobacco use; increasing the use of high-impact, quality clinical preventative services; and providing a healthy and safe physical environment.


Verren on Monday gave the Independence City Council an update the program’s activities:


• Physical activity – Because of grant funds, the Roger T. Sermon Center got additional cardio equipment last month. Plans are under way to convert old offices there into a “wellness center” that might, in the future, include fitness assessment resources and therapeutic massages.


The goal in the grant’s first year, Verren said, was to increase Sermon Center’s membership by 10 percent. In the first 11 months, membership increased by 27 percent. This year, the Health Department is keeping the goal of increasing membership by 10 percent.


“I’m hoping that we’ll do even better than that – and I think we can,” Verren said.


• Healthy food choices – With farmers market sites on the Square and at Hartman Heritage shopping center, the Health Department is aiming to add a third location in 2012, Verren said.


The city also would like to create “mini farmers markets” using community gardens across Independence. The initiative is working to increase the availability of fresh produce in corner stores, as well as bringing full-service grocery stores to Independence’s food desert areas.


Beginning July 1, city vending machines will provide healthier options. A new contract requires 50 percent of beverages and 85 percent of snacks to meet “healthy criteria.”


• Tobacco reduction – This year, Parks and Recreation will work on an ordinance to make city parks smoke-free. Building a Healthier Independence also is aiming to implement smoke-free campus and multi-unit housing policies, as well as limit advertising of tobacco products near schools and limit electronic cigarettes, which simulate tobacco smoking.


“Building a healthier Independence is not just a grant program,” Independence Health Department Director Larry Jones said, “but it really is, we hope, a change in Independence.”