Photo by Chantal Hayes
Panelists at MPC's Nov. 3 roundtable, "Alternative Avenues: How Livable Communities Promote Health and Wellness," sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois
MPC research assistant Alaina Berg contributed to this blog post.
Is it enough to teach people the importance of healthy lifestyle choices — eating right, exercising, going for regular health screenings — or must wellness initiatives expand to consider the way communities impact behavior, by providing or limiting access to stable housing, quality jobs, healthy food, and safe places to be active? On Wednesday, Nov. 3, MPC explored that question by hosting “Alternative Avenues: How Livable Communities Promote Health and Wellness,” a roundtable luncheon focused on the effects of community and workplace design on public health. (Listen to an audio recording of Alternative Avenues.)
Sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL), the event attracted a diverse audience, including local municipal officials and planners, community-based organizations, health care providers, and business owners. The event opened with dynamic presentations by BCBSIL and the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC), both of which highlighted the economic and social costs of poor health. Paul Handel, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer of Health Care Service Corporation (which operates BCBSIL), stressed the healthcare costs associated with treating preventable diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, which can be caused by unhealthy lifestyles. Handel's presentation, "Why Wellness: The Cost of Doing Nothing," stemmed in part from the findings of the November 2010 white paper, "Medical Costs Drive Health Insurance Premiums." Adam Becker, PhD, MPH, executive director of CLOCC, focused specifically on Chicago, which has higher obesity rates than the rest of Illinois. His presentation "Obesity in Chicago: The Problem and Some Solutions," championed an ecological approach to preventing obesity, emphasizing the need for individuals, families, businesses, organizations and communities to work together to address problems such as a lack of healthy food in certain areas of the region.
The second half of the panel focused on local businesses and municipalities leading the way with model initiatives that factor in the affects of environment on health. Christopher King, president of Robinson Engineering, a Chicago Southland company awarded for its excellent employee health, gave examples of the innovative strategies Robinson Engineering has used to support healthy lifestyles among its employees. From their employer-assisted housing program, monthly wellness topics, and company-wide Biggest Loser competition, to the company's professional focus on walkability, sustainability, and green streets, Robinson Engineering is committed to a holistic approach toward public health. Bobby Ware, commissioner of the Chicago Dept. of Transportation (CDOT), concluded panel presentations, outlining CDOT’s Plan for Complete Streets, which seeks to create a transportation system that accommodates and balances the needs and safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, drivers, and freight. By designing streets that help people reach their destinations safely, no matter what mode they are using to get there, and by supporting infrastructure and programs that encourage people to walk, bike and take transit, CDOT is encouraging all Chicagoans to adopt healthy lifestyles.
"Alternative Avenues" made it clear that livable communities with access to transportation, healthy food, and safe public spaces play a critical role in health and well-being. The afternoon began what MPC intends to be an ongoing exploration of multifaceted, collaborative approach to supporting healthier individuals and communities.