Why they stand out
As a county-wide health coalition in a rural area, Walworth County’s Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) coalition provides a model for other counties. The coalition builds a united front across small cities and towns, such as Whitewater, Elkhorn, and Lake Geneva, to make more resources accessible for healthy living in the community. HEAL coalition members share innovative strategies among communities. Grounded in a public health approach, HEAL provides periodic community needs assessments and other health data that helps focus priorities and actions. HEAL places a strong priority on education and working to expand healthy options in the places that shape residents’ daily lives.
Partnerships and awareness are creating impactful changes in Walworth County. For example, two miles of busy highway prevented those without transportation in the City of Elkhorn from safely accessing the hospital and the Walworth County Government buildings. Recognizing the safety hazard, Walworth County’s transportation committee planned and completed a separate path in 2017 for people walking and biking, allowing residents to connect safely across the overpass and off the highway. HEAL raises awareness about this trail and others across the county. Efforts include developing signage at county parks and trails as well as improving trail path mapping. As a Certified Health Education Specialist, Valerie Vargas states, “We see the positive impacts of events such as weekly bike rides or walking groups in different communities, but since Walworth is largely rural and spread out, we want to increase access and spread these wonderful opportunities to more people and places.”
Along with environmental changes, Walworth County works with cities in support of local Complete Streets Policies. Whitewater is a model city within their county that successfully adopted a Complete Streets Policy. HEAL hopes that their success will encourage other cities to adopt this policy, share information, and inspire healthful changes across the county. Look to Walworth County for examples of building momentum for changes that promote healthy living!
Approach to Equity
Walworth County is mostly a rural community which houses an additional 200,000 seasonal residents and tourists during the summer months. While the median income is $55,000, according to a 2016 United Way report, 44% of households are considered to be “Working Poor” and may experience seasonal food insecurity. It is challenging for them to promote physical activity when many are stretched on time and resources. Another compounding barrier to physical activity is a lack of reliable transportation to access resources. HEAL is dedicated to bridging the gap by identifying, promoting and creating more no cost, easily accessible opportunities for physical activity.
HEAL advances health equity by prioritizing their work to help populations who face the highest rates of diabetes and obesity. In Walworth County, the most impacted population includes people who identify as Hispanic and Latino. HEAL is working to partner with the Hispanic and Latino communities to help improve their well-being. HEAL is reaching out to pre-existing social structures that work with that community, such as community centers and faith based organizations, to help foster change related to health.