By Lonnie Portis & Sara Siegel
Governor Cuomo created ten regions in the State of New York and asked each region to come up with innovate, strategic plans that will boost job creation and encourage economic development based on the unique characteristics of each region. This community-based, bottom up approach forces government officials to examine and invest in what New Yorkers find valuable. The Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs) compete for grants and tax credits that will be used for the implementation and evolution of their strategic plans. Which districts planned to invest or have invested in healthy living and/or obesity prevention? DASH-NY did a search in each of the region’s strategic plans and their 2012 progress reports to answer that exact question.
The search yields only three hits for the explicit use of the term “obesity”. The term is used at least once in the progress report of Central New York and in the strategic plans of Mid-Hudson and Southern Tier. The South Side Food Cooperative in Onondaga County (Central New York) is specifically targeting obesity and public health issues in nutrition by bringing fresh, healthy, fairly-priced foods to its residents. Sullivan County’s (Mid-Hudson) Center for Discovery proposes to develop a High-Risk Assessment Clinic for children in order to offer individual assessment and treatment plans that are medical, clinical, and educationally-based. One of the services included integrated assessment of co-occurring medical conditions including obesity and nutritional problems. In their strategic plan, the Southern Tier included an entire three-page appendix dedicated to healthy diet, physical activity obesity and chronic disease. They name obesity as their number one healthcare-based challenge followed by disparity in healthy lifestyles between urban and rural areas.
Obesity is complex and curbing its rates does not have to be the only motivation in order to procure investment. There are many fields, industries and sectors that influence obesity. Every region in New York mention something about access to healthy foods. In general, there is discourse on the economic, health and social benefits of farmers markets and farm-to school programs. Funding community projects that create complete streets or encourage active design are investments in infrastructure that promote physical activity. The need for clean water and health and wellness programs also appears in the strategic plans and progress reports. There are three major lessons that can be learned from the REDC search: (1) people see their community’s health as an opportunity for economic growth; (2) there are countless methods to directly and indirectly lowering obesity rates; and (3) these methods can also contribute to the economic development of New York.