In 2007, over 100 organizations in Jefferson County, Alabama formed the Health Action Partnership, a collective effort aimed at making local neighborhoods healthier places to live, work, learn and play.
Reducing obesity was the Partnership’s main objectives from the outset, as Alabama’s obesity rate is the second highest in the nation. Recognizing that lifestyle change is critical in achieving this goal, the Partnership wanted to increase activity levels in the everyday lives of Jefferson County residents.
The organizations soon realized one answer to reducing obesity had been right beneath their feet all along: Complete Streets.
Making improvements to streets, sidewalks and paths would promote physical activity by making it safe and convenient for residents to walk outside for recreation, and would also makes it easier for them to incorporate functional walking and biking into their day-to-day lives.
Jefferson County’s streets are not currently friendly to pedestrians: most of the county’s sidewalks haven’t been updated in the past 50 years, and many are torn up or unsafe. Birmingham, the state’s largest city, also is just beginning to get back on its feet after a series of destructive tornadoes in 2011, which caused more than a billion dollars of property damage. Street safety is no minor problem, either: Alabama ranks fifth in the country for pedestrian deaths.
Since the Partnership came together, it has sought to leverage funding from a variety of sources to address local issues of public health and safety. One of the largest funding sources thus far has been a $13 million Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded in 2010. A portion of this grant is dedicated to fighting obesity in Jefferson County’s 35 municipalities.