A healthy and active Key Peninsula: Pilot project springs forward


Danna Webster, KP News

Several major health agencies turned their attention to the Key Peninsula and Gig Harbor in early November, when the 2007 Gig Harbor–Key Peninsula Community Health Collaborative Summit was held at Miracle Ranch by Horseshoe Lake. Healthy Communities of Pierce County is a joint project of the Pierce County Medical Society and the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department. The event was sponsored by more than a dozen health and government agencies and was attended by about 60 physicians, elected officials, educators, business leaders, parents, students, and other citizens. They were all concerned about physical activity and nutrition on the peninsulas.

Summit participants in a breakout session to get some exercise. Photo by Hugh McMillan

The events of the two-day conference were organized around a collaborative design process that served to maximize interaction, increase access to information, and superspeed plans into action. Conference facilitators worked with groups representing the restaurant industry, schools, community, farming, government, business, fitness, medicine, and churches. The groups produced doable action plans with assignment of people, resources, and a timeline for completion.

One of the participants representing the Key Peninsula was Dr. William Roes of the Key Medical Center. Dr. Roes shared his observation of the summit in an email to KP News. “I was not able to attend the full retreat, but I was able to come away with a sense of where it was going and the tasks it was hoping to achieve. The goal sounds simple, to improve the health of our community… The consensus was that there needs to be new opportunities for people to learn and practice healthy lifestyles,” he wrote. “Diet and nutrition seems paramount, and something that we are not teaching our children well. The other side of the coin is increasing physical activity, both for the kids in our community, but also making this a lifelong goal. Plans are being made for ways to affect this, from the new YMCA to planning walking trails on the Key Peninsula. There was an impressive coalition of community activists, medical professionals, educators and businessmen at the meeting, and I am hopeful it can have a beneficial effect on our community.”

The conference was divided into several workgroups, each of which came up with a work plan. Photo by Mindi LaRose

At the summit, participants reviewed the history of health challenges in the community and discussed the many current efforts and issues regarding physical activity and healthy nutrition. Before the 1960s, most Americans were healthy because they were kept physically active with work. With the advent of television and mass marketing in the 1970s, and growing consumerism in the 1980s, Americans found it easy to stay inside and watch television. By the turn of the millennium, the obesity rate escalated and brought an epidemic of diabetes, especially in children. Statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that one of three babies born in 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in their life. Obesity is the top risk factor for diabetes, and Pierce County’s obesity rate is 30 percent (highest in Washington state).

Preventing and controlling obesity, as well as chronic disease and other adverse health conditions, is the goal of the three task forces created at the summit: policy and environment; active aging and workplace; and children, youth and education. The plans created by the task forces promote environmental solutions and develop policy and practices for government and institutional agencies. Each of the three groups set goals and outlined the work ahead.

The Policy and Environment group divided their goals into three major tasks, including to investigate the current status of trails and the development of a trail system connecting schools, neighborhoods, and community centers in the Key Peninsula. Other goals for this group are to investigate incorporation of the peninsulas and to develop community centers throughout Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula.

The Active Aging and Adult in the Workplace task force has two major goals: to develop a resolution to create a healthy community that can be presented to the city and county councils for adoption, and to create education tools and resources to provide a unified message about the importance of physical activity and healthy nutrition for all segments of the community.

The Child, Youth and Education task force’s goals include to develop a community-school summit similar to this summit to be presented at a school in the Peninsula School District, to increase the visibility of current and future community activities, and to help recruit community members and leaders to serve as role models.

Several Key Pen community leaders are taking charge of various major tasks, including Chuck West of the KP Fire Department and Jud Morris of KP Family Resources Center.

The Community Health Collaborative Summit was led by Jane A. Moore, MD, director of Healthy Communities of Pierce County. Involvement of a rural area like the Key Peninsula is new to the healthy community project, according to Moore. “A number of cities in Washington state and across the nation have started healthy communities projects, but I am not aware of any being done in rural areas with lower population density,” she said. “The Key Peninsula people who attended the summit were among the most enthusiastic. If that enthusiasm is maintained and transformed into work, the Key Peninsula could become a great example of healthy living in healthy communities for the rest of the state and beyond. This would result in healthier, more productive residents, lower incidences of chronic diseases, and flattening (or reversal) of the curve of increasing obesity rates.”

Enthusiasm for the conference was shared by the participants, sponsors and facilitators. Dr. Sumner Schoenike, MD, president of the Pierce County Medical Society, is one of the organizers. “The energy at the summit speaks for itself. People were there because they understand how critical this issue is and they understand the toll these problems have exacted from our society. They were there to take a stand and they were there to be part of the solution,” he said.

The summit participants will meet again after the first of the year and report results. People interested in the Healthy Community project are welcome to attend the next meeting. “A follow-up meeting will be held at Gig Harbor City Hall in February or March. At this meeting, we will share what we have been able to accomplish between now and then,” Moore said.