Extension News

Creating Health-Promoting Communities


AMES, Iowa --- Fifth graders at Boone’s Franklin Elementary School walked to school with their teachers on Oct. 8 as part of International Walk to School Day. Teachers Randy Paulsen and Kristy Danilson invited students to walk with them, promoting physical activity and teaching walking safety skills along the way.

Approximately 1,500 Boone students from kindergarten through eighth grade participated in events that day, according to Sara Behn, Boone’s Safe Routes to School grant coordinator. “Walk to School Day is just one activity we are doing to build awareness of the healthy aspects of walking and to educate students on walking safety,” Behn said. “The school is an active partner of the Boone County Fit for Life Coalition and one coalition goal is to promote biking and walking by developing safe routes to school.”

With money from a Department of Transportation grant, the Boone coalition assessed the community’s walkability and with the city engineers have identified needed changes – curb cuts for accessibility, sidewalk repairs and flashing lights near school crossings. In addition to infrastructure changes, Behn says educational programs move the effort forward.

“At our Bike Rodeo we worked with the local police department, Extension and the Boone County Hospital to reach young bike riders. We gave away 300 bike helmets and other bike safety items and had several educational displays,” she said.

“We also purchased Body Mass Index scales for the schools, so they can document weight changes as our students become more active,” Behn said. “And other community partners will support the students in Go the Distance Day next spring.”

The Boone community was one of 11 Iowa communities to take part in Walk to School Day Oct. 8; many Iowa communities are exploring ways to be more walker-friendly by repairing sidewalks and creating walking paths. It takes dedication and time.

Behn says many of Boone’s goals won’t be realized for five, maybe 10 years – but the goals are important to creating a healthy community and more people need to become involved. The coalition plans to hold a public forum to answer individual questions and generate additional volunteer support to achieve the ultimate goal of connecting all the parks and schools in Boone with trails or sidewalks.

“Communities have an important role to play in raising healthy kids,” said Ruth Litchfield, Iowa State University Extension nutrition specialist. “By building partnerships among schools, families, community groups, and individuals, communities can create a health-promoting environment.”

Litchfield says that health-promoting communities have sidewalks and bike paths; their parks are accessible and safe; they offer a variety of sponsored activities at convenient times for all ages; they have neighborhood and school gardens and farmers’ markets; and adults who model and promote healthy eating and exercise habits.

“One of the first steps of the community partnership is to conduct an assessment of the community – like Boone did,” said Litchfield. “This helps the community prioritize and target their efforts. Identifying a common goal makes the partnership more efficient and effective.”

Litchfield has authored a series of publications called Raising Healthy Kids, designed to help parents, communities, and childcare providers address important health and nutrition questions. Three publications in the series – Overweight Kids: What Communities Can Do, PM 1884; What Schools Can Do to Promote Healthy Eating, PM 2039; and Pyramids of Health, PM 1950 – offer activity information that parents, schools and communities will find useful in creating health-promoting environments. All the publications in the series are available at no charge from your local extension office or from the ISU Extension online store at https://www.extension.iastate.edu/store/.


Contacts :

Ruth Litchfield, Food Science/Human Nutrition, (515) 294-9484, litch@iastate.edu

Willy Klein, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0662, wklein@iastate.edu