Health Education & Promotion

Health 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 2014 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 2014 Community Health Needs Assessment:

  • 14% of middle school-aged youth and 14.8% of high school-aged youth are considered overweight, while 9.7% of middle school-aged youth and 11.4% of high school-aged youth are considered obese.
  • Mirroring the trends observed both statewide and nationally, the rate of obesity in Kent County has continued to increase since 1993, showing an almost 11-point increase (from 17% in 1993 to 27.6% at present).
  • 15.2% of all Kent County residents and 23.2% of children in the county are food insecure. Food insecure means they lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious foods.
  • Less than one-third of Kent County middle school-aged youth and about 25% of high school-aged youth report eating the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables regularly.
  • 20% of Kent County adults reported no leisure-time physical activity.

Practicing healthy behaviors are not as simple as they may sound, especially when the environments around us encourage us to be inactive and eat in unhealthy ways. Furthermore, practicing these healthy behaviors can be more difficult for certain populations, particularly some racial groups and those living in poverty. Healthy lifestyle practices can be even more difficult for those who lack resources, live in unsafe neighborhoods that often do not provide access to healthy foods, face discrimination or suffer from excessive amounts of stress and uncertainty that comes from living in poverty.

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. NACCHO

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


Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health. A three-year program from the Centers for Disease Control and promoting health eating, active living, a tobacco free lifestyle and providing community linkages to care through policy, systems, and environmental change for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) aimed at reducing racial and ethnic disparities in health. Grant award – 2014. The overall goals of the grant are to: Reduce the prevalence of obesity; Reduce the rates of death and disability due to tobacco; diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

MI 1422 Grant

Implementing Public Health Prevention strategies for Obesity, Diabetes, Heart disease and Stroke through Chronic Disease Coordinating Networks. A four-year program from MI Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). Grant Award-2015. The goals of the grant are to: Implement public health approaches to prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke among adults living in Kent County, with a priority focus on the population living in Grand Rapids’ vulnerable Hope Zone neighborhoods.

MI Health and Wellness 4x4 Plan

The one year grant program supports evidenced-based strategies to increase healthy eating and physical activity with a focus on the prevention of obesity and other chronic diseases. The F2P (Farm to Plate) initiative will assist Access Food pantries establish nutrition standards and incentive five key pantries in high risk areas of the County to increase fresh fruit and vegetable distribution through CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Shares. Secondly, it will assist those pantries in developing alternate redemption systems using EBT (MI Bridge Card) and DUFB (Double Up Food Buck) incentives.

Community Health Improvement Plan – Obesity and Poor Nutrition (O/PN CHIP)

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 | | (616) 632-7272
Carolyn Quiney | | (616) 632-7218
Nicole Batway | | (616) 632-7070

Fact Sheets