The Evolution of the Mayor’s Healthy Hometown Movement

Participants at this year’s Hike, Bike & Paddle.  Photo by JAMES EATON

Participants at this year’s Hike, Bike & Paddle. Photo by JAMES EATON

Started in 2005 under then mayor Jerry Abramson, the Mayor’s Healthy Hometown Movement was designed as a long-term multi-phase program led by the Louisville Metro Health Department to promote healthier lifestyles, better eating habits and increased physical activity.

The movement began in part as a response to a 2004 Health Status Assessment Report that included distressing statistics claiming nearly 60 percent of Louisvillians were overweight with almost 29 percent labeled obese. The study also said 78 percent of residents were not eating enough fruits and vegetables and 35 percent engaged in no leisure-time physical activity.

May 31 was the deadline for local, small non-profit organizations to apply for a 2016 Healthy Hometown grant from the Mayor’s Hometown Movement. Grants have been awarded for the past 10 years with money coming from the city’s general fund. Grant money totals an estimated $30,000-$35,000 annually.

 During the past decade, more than a half million dollars have been awarded in grants to over 100 community groups. According to Leanne French, administrator at Louisville Metro’s Department of Public Health and Wellness, for 2016, 20 agencies have submitted applications and a committee is already meeting to review them. Organizations awarded grants will be notified in July.

 Under Mayor Greg Fisher, the movement and its types of grants have grown. “Last year, we expanded it beyond what had just been healthy eating and active living to include a number of topics in Healthy Louisville 2020,” French says, referring to a local initiative that tracks hundreds of community health indicators and provides strategies for addressing health challenges. Topics included violence prevention, safe neighborhoods and tobacco use.

 Providing grants, however, is just one facet of what the Mayor’s Healthy Hometown Movement does. According to French, directors of all metro government agencies including parks, housing, transportation and public schools are now asking what they can do in their policies to make Louisville a healthier place. For example, the expansion of bike lanes around town was initiated by Metro Public Works.

Dave Langdon, public information officer at Louisville Metro’s Department of Public Health and Wellness, says, “Every government decision considers the health aspect of its decision. So when you are repaving the streets, you look at the health aspects of that, and one of the health aspects of that is giving the opportunity if they want to use the streets for bikes. So that’s a perfect example of the ‘health in all’ policies approach.”

This increased government and public awareness is evident in events like the Hike, Bike & Paddle, whose participation has steadily increased over the years. “We’ve gone from 1,500 people to well over 10,000,” Langdon says. The event is now held each year on Memorial Day and Labor Day – the most recent having just been held on May 30.

The Movement was designed to change the culture in Louisville to one in which physical activity and healthy eating are the norms, but despite progress and data that shows the number of obese adults and those with hypertension is dropping in our community, over the past couple of years, Louisville has seen some discouraging rankings about its fitness level in national magazines and on websites.

But is there any legitimacy to these findings? “One of the things we said in 2005 when this Mayor’s Hometown Movement started is that we didn’t get in this position overnight, and we’re talking about cultural change,” Langdon says. “The change is going to be gradual, but I think we are seeing some changes.”

An example of how the scope of the Movement has widened in regard to public health concerns is in the area of smoking. “Such a big issue for Kentucky and specifically in Louisville is smoking rates and exposure to secondhand smoke,” French says. “Metro Parks has taken a big step forward in terms of outdoor air and is making all of their children’s play areas and spraygrounds smoke-free.”

Although, the Mayor’s Healthy Hometown Movement might have started as a means of addressing obesity and inactive lifestyles, it has become much more. Langdon says it has now expanded to make policies that will “impact everybody in Louisville to create equal opportunity for healthier choices and healthier living period.”

But in expanding, city leaders are not looking past anyone. French asserts, “We really want to make sure these get into neighborhoods and smaller areas.” Now entering its second decade, the Mayor’s Healthy Hometown Movement continues to reach more and more people in our community. VT

By Kevin Sedelmeier, Special Contributor