‘Built Environment’

Published 9:43 am Thursday, April 7, 2011

Seated from left, Hertford County school students Alexis Stephens and Bryan Green join with Stacy Shelp of the NC Division of Public Health as they listen to Ahoskie Recreation Director Tina Pritchard speak about the efforts the town is undertaking on promoting physical activities.

AHOSKIE – There’s no time like the present.

That was the message sent here last week where the N.C. Division of Public Health hosted “Lights, Camera, Active!” While the event was staged to pay tribute to Hertford County schoolchildren involved in a statewide video contest that promotes a healthy lifestyle, the message delivered ran much deeper.

Keeping with the theme, the Division of Public Health recognized Hertford County Middle School students Bryan Green, Qaamaine Sutton, Caleb Jordan and Jamari Wiggins as the local winners of “Lights, Camera, Active!”  The contest is part of a statewide campaign to address the growing obesity rate in North Carolina by drawing attention to the “built environment” –trails where we run; baseball and soccer fields where we compete; exercise facilities where we work out; public parks where we play; and sidewalks and streets where we walk.

The 11 winning videos from across the state were rolled into a 15 minute compilation video, shown last week during an event held at the Brabble Family Life Center at Carpenter’s Shop Church.

The questions looming before and after the showing of the video were what opportunities are available locally and how can we work together to build a healthier future?

“We want our kids to have an opportunity to safely walk down the street to play in a neighbor’s yard or gain access to a public park,” said Stacy Shelp of the NC Division of Public Health, Physical Activity and Nutrition Branch, who emceed the event. “We want to develop safe modes of alternate transportation through the installation of bicycle lanes, for adults who may like to ride their bike to work, especially with the price of gas nowadays, or a child to school or to a park. We want healthier lifestyles, healthier communities and we’re here to help provide the catalyst to make that happen. It’s more than what’s built around us, it’s how we connect with our families, our friends, places where we work and where we worship.”

Shelp said she was aware of what the town of Ahoskie was doing in regards to promoting a healthy, active lifestyle with its new park and plans to develop a bicycle-friendly area. She recognized Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn, Town Manager Tony Hammond, Recreation Director Tina Pritchard and Susan Askew, Director of Community Health Services for the Hertford County Public Health Authority.

The event featured a panel discussion, featuring Bryan Green, Alexis Stephens, a 9th grader at Hertford County High School, Pritchard and Phil Brors of Active Living by Design, a firm that assists communities throughout the country that want to create an environment promoting healthy lifestyles.

“We need to have more parks for sports and other activities,” said Green. “We need role models to help us become motivated; to show us the right way to go. Being on the street is not good. Playing sports leads you on the right path.”

“If students are active, I believe our (academic) tests scores would be higher. Students that are physically active are also socially and mentally active,” Stephens noted.

Pritchard said not only has the town of Ahoskie invested in a new park (Ahoskie Creek Recreational Complex), it is also involved in improving the existing parks.

“Most folks think we only have that new, $1.6 million park back behind the hospital when in fact we have seven parks here in town,” Pritchard said. “I’m trying to do a better job in keeping those maintained so people can visit them and engage in a variety of healthy activities.”

As far as the town’s developing bicycle plan, Pritchard said Ahoskie officials are striving in an effort to ensure that every child and every adult that wants to get somewhere, walking or riding, on a bike lane, a path, a sidewalk or a greenway can do so safely.

“Hopefully, when we reach the point of developing these safe routes, it will encourage the public to come out and engage in healthy activities,” she stressed. “We want to connect you to the areas you want to reach….to the park, our gym, the Recreation Center and our local schools.”

Meanwhile, Pritchard noted that Hertford County has formed a Recreation Advisory Board and that county officials are looking for suggestions on how they can offer recreational activities to the citizens.

Brors stated that while everyone is encouraged to engage in physical activity to improve their health, it was like having a prescription that couldn’t be filled if there are no outlets to participate.

“If you don’t have that outlet for activity, you won’t take it up; that’s just common sense,” Brors said. “Common sense will also show that adults and children living near parks and with easy access to those areas do engage regularly in physical activity. If you build it in the right place people will use it.”

Brors added that people associate health with doctors, nurses and hospitals, but stressed it was not limited to those areas.

“It’s determined by so much more….elected officials, parents, recreation directors, public works directors, transportation officials, law enforcement, planners,” he noted. “Whether they know it or not or like it or not, they have a big influence on a community’s health.

“Active environments improve the quality of life,” Brors continued. “It’s also good for the economy, businesses want to locate where there are parks, sidewalks, etc. “It’s also good for the environment, especially when we can walk or bike and save on gas and reduce gas emissions.”

Shelp cited another good reason to invest into healthy built communities – that to extend the life cycle of the current generation. She said they are being diagnosed in record numbers with cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“These are our kids, they will have a shorter life span than their parents,” she stressed. “This movement of becoming involved in healthier communities, healthier lifestyles is worth the investment. It has to start now, with an individual commitment, with a community commitment.”

Shelp encouraged those in attendance at last week’s event to become involved…engage in discussions with local municipal, county and health officials.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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