Greater Flint Health Coalition: Making the Healthy Choice, the Easy Choice.

GFHC Crowd Photo
In 2010, Genesee County ranked last with the poorest health behavior scores in Michigan. In response, the Greater Flint Health Coalition (GFHC)
announced its Action Plan to improve health behaviors and outcomes in Genesee County and the City of Flint over the next ten years.

As a strategy to promote healthier lifestyles, in 2011 the coalition launched Commit to Fit! a campaign to promote practical ways to increase health and wellness through simple daily choices, (99 easy ways to better health, including healthy eating, drinking water and getting enough rest, were outlined in simple tools for healthcare partners, businesses, schools, and the community to adopt and make their own). The campaign has quickly spread throughout the community's employees, students, patients, customers, and congregations.

As part of the Michigan Department of Community Health’s 4 x 4 Plan, the coalition was selected as one of six local 4 x 4 coalitions to expand prevention activities and empower people to make healthy choices.

Raising awareness of low cost healthy eating and free physical activity options was first on the coalition’s to-do list. The coalition created tools and resources on healthy living for healthcare providers to discuss with their patients. This included a physician toolkit using a prescription for health strategy (allowing physicians to “prescribe” physical activity to their patient, for example), brochures, and calendars of free physical activities across the community. Over 400 physicians and healthcare providers continue to use these materials with patients.

The coalition began hosting free fitness classes, including one class per week in high need areas (areas with low-income and often unmet health needs). With the help of new partners, a full calendar of free weekly fitness classes was developed for residents of all fitness levels. The coalition now holds more than 150 fitness classes each year and has found new locations in local fitness centers, schools, and the Flint & Genesee County Parks. Residents have enjoyed the increased access and the effort is expanding to promote walking clubs and MI Big Green Gym , a program to promote outdoor recreation in the Flint & Genesee County parks.

To meet an overwhelming need to increase nutrition education and access to affordable, healthy foods within Genesee County and Flint, the coalition now coordinates five nutrition education classes per month with Flint Farmers’ Market vendors. Free healthy cooking demonstrations at the market help residents learn how to shop for and prepare healthier foods. This partnership supports low-income residents who access the Double Up Food Bucks Program for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) right where the classes are held. The farmer’s market is located near a bus line to help increase access to healthy food options.

With half of Michiganders spending most of their day, and consuming half their calories at work, the coalition wanted to bring wellness programs to employers. In September, 2011 the coalition held its first Fall 4 Fitness Challenge, a month-long physical activity competition between organizations.

50 local businesses participated in the first year, and Flint Mayor Dayne Walling proclaimed September 12th as “Commit to Fit! Day”
in the City of Flint.  Flint Mayor Walling at cooking demonstrationThe coalition now offers an annual series of workplace and community challenges, with over 350 participating businesses and community organizations, reaching over 10,000 Flint & Genesee County residents who use the Commit2fit.com to track their healthy behaviors and receive social support for their health and wellness journey. Over 50 partners now support healthy work environments through evidence-based workplace policies and practices. This includes breastfeeding toolkits, smoke-free campus policy toolkits, healthier food and beverage options, and physical activity opportunities.

Several community-based wellness challenges engage participants in unique and meaningful ways. The annual Fall 4 Fitness Challenge has continued as a business-to-business challenge to promote physical activity in local worksites. In 2014, the fourth annual 30 day event saw 86 businesses participate and over 1.1 million minutes of activity were logged on the GFHC wellness portal, commit2fit.com. In 2015 the coalition plans to recognize “Certified Healthy Worksites” that meet criteria for healthy environments, policies, and practices.

The coalition launched the Smart Bites program in partnership with 12 local restaurants to offer discounts for youth for the purchase of healthy food items. The program helps make it easier for young people to make healthier choices and will expand to include more local restaurants in 2015 to support healthier food choices for youth. The coalition has used social marketing to reach underserved, low-socioeconomic residents, through Facebook, Twitter, and the GFHC health behavior tracking website, commit2fit.com. Over 100,000 residents have been reached and actively engaged in Commit to Fit! and accessed 4 x 4 resources and activities.

 
While just one of these efforts may not be enough to eliminate the prevalence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, all of them together adopted by cross-sector partners have helped to begin to change the environment to support healthier lifestyles creating a culture of health. As one of many testimonials to this community-wide effort, Lawana Jarrett, a Flint resident and program participant shared the following. “Since I started with Commit to Fit I feel like a new person. I have totally changed my way of eating and I feel so much better. I exercise more and I pay more attention to what I eat. I am encouraging others to take the challenge.” Through the Michigan Health and Wellness 4 x 4 initiatives, the GFHC continues to help residents make the healthy choice, the easy choice.

For more information on the Greater Flint Health Coalition contact gfhc@flint.org or call 810-232-2228.