Tackling Obesity Head On: Hospitals and Trail Groups Team Up to Fight Obesity

Posted 09/24/14 by Elissa Southward in Health and Wellness

Photo CC Mark Stosberg via Flickr

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, as well as Pennsylvania Month here at RTC. Our Healthy Communities Manager, Elissa Southward, shares with us what is happening on the health front in the great Keystone State and the vital partnerships that are being forged to combat the trends of obesity in Pennsylvania.

As the country struggles to combat the frightening trends of obesity, Pennsylvanians are teaming up to find a solution. 

The statistics are sobering: The health of the nation is in a poor state. The good news is that just trying to reduce the amount of time spent sitting and increasing physical activity daily can have a significant effect. We hear it all the time. Physical activity is extremely important for both physical and mental health. Just moderate walking and regular bicycling can lead to a longer and healthier life!

Health leaders in Pennsylvania acknowledge the importance of increasing physical activity in the fight against obesity, and in the Philadelphia region, they are tackling the issue head on. A number of nonprofit hospitals have recognized the importance of investing in and promoting safe walking and biking facilities in order to increase physical activity and improve the health of their patients and employees—recognizing that multi-use trails, in particular, can serve as an effective prescription for better health and wellness. Trails can be used by everyone, and thus represent the broad interests of the communities served by hospitals. Additionally, partnering with advocates and trails managers is in keeping with the action-oriented and progressive ideas required to maintain their tax-exemption status. 

Circuit-Map.jpgHospitals and trail groups are a natural fit; indeed, partnerships between them have great potential for creating healthier communities. The Circuit Trails, a multi-use trail network that, when completed, will connect more than 750 miles of trails throughout the Greater Philadelphia area, has been the catalyst for building relationships between these partners. 

The success of these collaborative efforts has exceeded expectations. Take the partnership between St Luke’s University Health Network and Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (D & L), for example. Their aim is “to connect people to the outstanding opportunities along the D & L Trail while increasing health awareness and improving the health status of the community.” In an effort to promote a culture of wellness and a sense of community, the partners provide individuals and families with nutrition and exercise programs. They have also created the highly successful "Get your Tail on the Trail" challenge, where employees, patients and community members attempt to log 165 miles on the trail from May to November. The first challenge, which ended in November 2013, resulted in 2,400 participants who logged nearly 250,000 miles on the D & L Trail!

Due to the huge success and enthusiasm for the challenge, St Luke’s and D & L kept the momentum going with a smaller winter challenge that saw more than 3,000 participants log over 300,000 miles, despite the cold of winter! The largest challenge yet, which began in May 2014, has engaged more than 4,000 participants and documented over 340,000 miles; that's more than 13 trips around the circumference of the earth! Six schools have also adopted the model. St Luke’s is assessing the health impacts of these programs to show whether there have been changes in participant’s physical activity, weight and chronic disease risk factors.  

Another successful partnership is between Lankenau Medical Center and the Friends of the Cynwyd Heritage Trail. The two groups co-sponsor a health-related seminar series on the trail on the third Tuesday of each month during the summer, appropriately titled "Trail Tuesdays."

Pennsylvania has seen the great value that trails bring to their state and the importance of investing in these facilities. The Philadelphia region in particular boasts one of the most complete and largest planned networks of multi-use trails for walking and bicycling in the nation. Thanks to the unique partnerships being forged between health professionals and the trails community through The Circuit, thousands of Pennsylvanians are hitting the trails and creating healthier lives. 

The fight against obesity is far from over, but the efforts being taken in Pennsylvania show that through collaboration and relevant partnerships, the future can hold more than just sobering statistics. Communities across the country—take note!

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