Perhaps you’ve seen the signs of the Building a Healthier Independence initiative across town.

Perhaps you’ve seen the signs of the Building a Healthier Independence initiative across town.

If you haven’t, they won’t be going away any time soon. In fact, look for them to continue growing during the next 18 months.

The first six months are complete in the two-year, grant-funded initiative, Independence was one of seven communities chosen in Missouri to receive funds through the Missouri Foundation for Health and federal funds through the Centers for Disease Control.

Independence also is part of a Community Transformation grant that all of Jackson County received. That effort is facilitated through the Mid-America Regional Council, and At-Large Council Member Jim Schultz serves on its leadership team. (Schultz also is the MARC chairman.)

Building a Healthier Independence project coordinator Christina Verren provided the City Council on Nov. 14 with the following updates in each of the three objectives of Building a Healthier Independence:

MORE PHYSICALLY ACTIVE

The Health Department, in coordination with other departments like Parks and Recreation and Public Works, aims to make Independence residents more physically active by increasing safety and making it easier with more resources available, Verren said.

To increase safety, six emergency blue phones will be installed along trails. Three locations were chosen along the Little Blue Trace Trail, with Parks and Recreation and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office working together on this effort.

Geographic information system trail markers also will be installed. Coordinates are marked along the Rock Creek Trail, which runs from Rotary Park to the Country Club Park in southwestern Independence.

“Public Works has done a lot for us – we really have to thank them,” Verren said in reference to the department’s efforts in installing 14 new pedestrian crossings since March, as well as repainting all of the school crosswalks prior to the start of the school year in August.

Three sidewalks also have been built in association with the grant.

Seven new pieces of cardiovascular equipment were purchased and delivered to the Roger T. Sermon Community Center in March. The Health Department is aiming for a 10 percent increase in Sermon Center membership throughout the course of the initiative. A 5 percent increase took place in the first six months, Verren said, with 38 new people signing up for memberships during a free open house event on Nov. 5.

Health and Parks and Recreation officials are looking for additional ways to expand the Sermon Center with additional programming or more equipment.

“Where else can you join a fitness center for $15 a year? C’mon folks,” Health Department Director Larry Jones said. “It’s the cheapest, best buy in town, and it’s the best place to go in town.”


HEALTHIER FOOD CHOICES

Building a Healthier Independence is trying to increase residents’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The Health Department will work with grocery stores in lower-income sections of town to effectively display produce, as well as increasing the number of community gardens by two or three each year.

In September, the city and the University of Kansas launched a community health assessment in an effort to identify the best location for a third farmers market in Independence. More than 8,000 surveys were mailed to area households, and about 1,800 responses were received. Those results should be completed by the end of January, Verren said.

The initiative also aims to make people more aware of what they are eating through calorie postings on restaurant menus. Again, KU is developing a survey that will be distributed to all restaurants in Independence to find out which are currently posting calories and how they feel about posting calories.

The Health Department also is looking to add healthier food choices in vending machines, Jones said. Last week, Health Promotion Division staff members met with health department officials from across the Kansas City area, as well as a majority of the area’s vending machine vendors, and discussed vending food and beverage trends, challenges, barriers and what they should do next in promoting healthier options.

“But we’re also going to be looking at what is the definition of a ‘healthy choice,’ ” Jones said, “because it’s sort of like with anything else: It may be healthy in one area and not be in another. Sometimes, we reduce the calories and increase the salt, and it makes you wonder whether we were out there to do anything good or not.”


DECREASE TOBACCO USAGE

The program is pushing the awareness of smoking cessation classes offered through the Health Department, as well as promoting awareness of the harms of tobacco use.

Seven billboard discouraging the use of tobacco are now in place around Independence, and on Dec. 12, four additional billboards will go up through the end of February. Advertisements also run in The Examiner, both in print and online, as well as on City 7 and in the city’s monthly newsletter, City Scene.