Health Education & Promotion

Healthy Eating, Active Living

What is the Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) initiative?

HEAL is an initiative to improve the health of Kent County’s most vulnerable populations by reducing health disparities and risks associated with chronic diseases. Health disparities exist when a group of people experience worse health than other more advantaged groups. Disparities are often seen in minority communities and among people with low socioeconomic status (those living in poverty).

HEAL includes several collaborative grant-funded programs which focus on policy, system, and environmental change as well as direct programming. These programs help increase the likelihood that Kent County residents will eat a healthy diet and get adequate exercise, thus preventing obesity and chronic illness.

Checking Weight Salad

Why is this a focus of the Kent County Health Department (KCHD)?

Eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting regular exercise helps prevent or delay the onset of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes, but it’s not easy. In Kent County, obesity and poor nutrition were found to be one of the top health concerns by residents during the 2017 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA).

One part of HEAL is prevention of overweight and obesity. Being overweight or obese greatly increases the risk of developing the chronic diseases mentioned above. Childhood obesity is particularly troublesome, as it increases a child’s risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, joint problems, breathing problems, low self-esteem and depression, and they are more likely to become obese adults who suffer lifelong with chronic health problems. Overweight for an adult is defined as Body Mass Index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9, while obesity is defined as having a BMI of over 30. BMI is a measure of weight in relation to height. Below are some helpful calculators to determine what range your weight falls in:

Here are some key findings about Kent County from the 2017 Community Health Needs Assessment:

  • Obesity among Kent County adults increased from 27.6% in 2014 to 34.1% in 2017.
  • Obesity increased among Kent County youth as well; in 2014, 9.7% of middle school and 11.4% of high school students were obese, compared to 11.4% of middle school and 12.5% of high school students in 2016.
  • Nearly one in five (19.7%) of Kent County adults reported no leisure-time physical activity in the past month. One-third of residents (35.0%) reported thirty minutes or more of physical activity at least five times per week.
  • Middle school and high school students reported similar rates of screen time: 20.2% of middle school and 17.8% of high school students reported three or more hours per day of TV on an average school day, and 28.9% of middle school and 27.8% of high school students reported three or more hours per day of video or computer games or computer use for something other than school work on an average school day.
  • More than two-thirds of Kent County adults (68.4%) reported consuming fruit one or more times per day, and 63.4% reported consuming vegetables one or more times per day. *Note: The numbers consumed is severely lacking the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables consumed daily.
  • Approximately 6% of Kent County families reported that their children skipped meals either daily, weekly, or monthly in the past six months because there was not enough money for food.
  • More than one in five Kent County residents (21.3%) reported feeling worried about whether food would run out in the past six months, 18.2% reported that their food did not last and they were unable to buy more, 14.0% skipped meals because there was not enough money for food, and 12.8% felt hungry but did not eat because there was not enough money to buy food.
  • More than one in five Kent County residents (20.7%) reported they were not always able to buy or receive all the healthy food needed to feed their families.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Non-Hispanic blacks have the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity (47.8%) followed by Hispanics (42.5%), non-Hispanic whites (32.6%), and non-Hispanic Asians (10.8%)
  • Obesity is higher among middle age adults, 40-59 years old (39.5%) than among younger adults, age 20-39 (30.3%) or adults over 60 or above (35.4%) adults.

How is KCHD addressing this problem?

The Kent County Health Department Healthy Eating, Active Living Initiative focuses on policy, system, and environmental (PSEs) change as well as direct programming to help prevent obesity in our community. Things like access to affordable fruits and vegetables, design of sidewalks and bike lanes within communities, and smoke-free policies in workplaces and businesses decrease the likelihood that people will develop a chronic disease. PSEs in communities that make healthy choices easy, safe, and affordable can have a positive impact on the way people live, learn, work, and play. Partnerships with community leaders in education, government, transportation, and business are essential in creating sustainable change to reduce the burden of chronic disease. PSE change is instrumental in creating and encouraging healthy behaviors in communities.

Some of the initiatives and community programming include:

  • System-level change initiative working towards policy changes
  • Access to and use of Farmers’ markets
  • Community, urban, and individual gardening
  • Active living – introduction to safe and walkable communities, walking and bike routes for non-motorized transportation; using environmental change inventories and assessment tools for change.
  • Connect schools with Safe Routes to School programming and applications
  • Physical activity promotion and challenges such as Golden Shoe and Kent Steps Up!
  • Assessment and evaluation of trends and issues related to obesity

HEAL efforts at KCHD

MI Health and Wellness 4x4 Plan

MDHHS, Cardiovascular Health Nutrition and Physical Activity Section issued the 2019 grant to support the goals of Michigan’s Health and Wellness 4 X 4 Plan which contains Michigan’s priorities for obesity prevention and the Centers for Disease Control, State’s Physical Activity and Nutrition program. The 2019 focus areas include:

  • Implement existing master/community plans and land use interventions by connecting sidewalks, paths, bicycle routes, public transit with homes, early care and education, schools, worksites parks, or recreation centers.
  • Establish new or improved pedestrian, bicycle, or transit transportation systems that are combined with new or improved land use or environmental design.
  • Implement food service guidelines (FSG) in worksites and in community settings in multiple venues to increase the availability of healthy foods.
Community Health Improvement Plan - Obesity and Poor Nutrition, HEAL Taskforce

The Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) is a long-term, systematic effort to address issues identified by the Community Health Needs Assessment. Various community organizations, including KCHD, have come together to address the key findings and community concerns. The Obesity and Poor Nutrition group of the Community Health Improvement Plan (O/PN CHIP) focuses on the key findings and concerns related to obesity and poor nutrition.

South East Area Farmers’ Market

Community collaboration with Our Kitchen Table and former food system council. Began in 2006 after Kent County Food Security Study conducted jointly between KCHD and the Kent County Essential Needs Task Force.

Essential Needs Task Force (ENTF) Food & Nutrition Coalition

Community led taskforce created in response to emergency needs in Kent County. Originally the Emergency Needs Task Force had subcommittees representing: food, shelter/housing, utilities, and transportation.

Building Healthy Communities and Active Living

Previously funded projects that conducted evaluations on the food environment, smoking/tobacco use, and built environment and walkability in the urban core of select neighborhoods in Grand Rapids. These assessments helped guide future programming.

Greater Grand Rapids Bicycle Coalition

HEAL has worked with the coalition to study bike usage and needs in Grand Rapids.

For more information about any of the HEAL Initiative programs, contact:

Jill Myer |
Carolyn Quiney |

Fact Sheets