Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fit Friendly SWFL initiative

Ideas! Action! Results!
A report on three projects aimed at upgrading our lives here.

Author: Nanci Theoret

In her quest for information, Markham soon learned about Lee Memorial Health System’s success with the three-year Fit Friendly START! campaign, offered through the American Heart Association. Since launching with a simple goal of promoting walking for exercise, the program has reached nearly all community stakeholders, from private businesses and local governments to social service agencies and schools, says Sally Jackson, Lee Memorial’s community projects director.

“START! was about walking to achieve fitness and eventually evolved to include food and nutrition,” she says. “It’s now a community-based wellness program.”

From a simple premise—walking as a tool to fight the battle of the bulge—the campaign has grown to identify factors increasing the obesity problem. It has helped government rewrite policy to mandate walking paths in new parks (45 are completed or in the process), promoted neighborhood gardens as a source for fresh veggies, and challenged local businesses to increase employee fitness and health.
The success of Lee County’s Fit Friendly program has also caught the eye of the AHA’s top brass, who participated last summer in a round-table discussion about implementing the second three-year phase. That next step, says Jackson, will expand the program into Charlotte and Collier counties, a project Markham and her team will help shepherd. “In my opinion, our health team has done its job when this becomes a Southwest Florida initiative,” she says.

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