More than half of all DeKalb County adults and 65 percent of public school student do not get enough exercise, according to the county’s Board of Health. Those numbers are one of the causes of DeKalb’s obesity rate of 25 percent.
“It’s dreadful,” said Elizabeth Ford, director of the county’s Board of Health. “It’s such a huge problem in DeKalb.”
And county leaders want to change those statistics.
“We do have a serious issue in the county,” said Andrew Baker, the county’s interim director for planning and sustainability, during a Board of Commissioners committee meeting on Sept. 7.
Using a $2.66 million grant awarded to the county last year, officials will look at ways to implement policies, systems and environmental changes to reduce obesity, improve nutrition and increase physical activity, according to Latricia Hughes, a media specialist with the county’s Board of Health.
The goal of the Communities Putting Prevention to Work’s obesity initiative is to create a master active living plan.
“What we want to do is, working with [the planning department] and working with the board of health, come up with ideas of how we can encourage people to walk,” Baker said.
“We think that it is important and foremost to the health of this county that we actually improve the health condition of the community,” Baker said. “The whole idea is, ‘How do we make it easier for people to walk?’”
Ford said the grant gives the health department an opportunity to look at community planning to enable residents to lead healthier lifestyles.
The health department will address “actually building and creating things that allow people to be healthy rather than just having an exercise class or cooking class,” Ford said. “We need to change the environment that people live in.”
Of the 41 sites nationwide to receive the grants, which were awarded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DeKalb County is the only one in Georgia.
The county has until September 2012 to use the grant, awarded in 2010.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time,” Ford said.
County officials said the master active living plan will address making the county more pedestrian-friendly by creating additional linkages and trails between communities, parks, libraries, gardens and business centers.
The grant will be used to hire two project managers who will coordinate the work of consultants in developing active living plans for eight areas of the county: the Belvedere community at Memorial Drive and Columbia Drive; Memorial Drive and Indian Creek; Indian Creek MARTA station; Covington Highway corridor; Flat Shoals Parkway and the Flakes Mill/Wesley Chapel area; Buford Highway; and Ashford Dunwoody Road and Johnson Ferry Road.
Up to three of the sites will be used as demonstration projects. Designs will be made to make these projects ready for construction.
Commissioner Larry Johnson said he did want to see a list of sidewalks that are needed in various communities.
The active living plan should address “how people can walk to get to a quality job,” Johnson said. “That’s number one for us right now. We want to be healthy. We want to be strong. What we are looking for is an active living plan that is an economic development plan.”
Some commissioners were concerned that the active living plan would be just one of the many plans in the county without funding for construction.
“We’ve got some great plans with no way to implement the plans,” Commissioner Kathie Gannon said.
Ford said that because there is no funding for any actual construction or implementation of the active living plan “some of those changes you won’t see for years and years and years.”
“I just don’t want these folks’ hopes up high and then we can’t implement,” Johnson said. “I can’t sell no more change; it’s time to deliver.”