From Our Team
Posted on February 5, 2018 by Dr. Michael Kelly
It is well into the new year and while some people have kept their New Year’s resolutions, others have not. If you are one who has set (and kept) a resolution to be healthier, congratulations; if not, don’t feel too bad. Changing the way one eats, exercises, consumes alcohol, smokes, sleeps or engages in any number of health behaviors is complex.
If just knowing the benefits of exercise would cause people to be active, then we would all exercise; if knowing that smoking was harmful, we would stop smoking. But, this is not the case. While information is helpful and frequently necessary to support healthy behaviors, information alone is seldom sufficient. Changing behaviors often requires interventions and support beyond education and willpower.
Here are a few examples of ways to support healthy lifestyles beyond education:
Changing the physical environment. The Paso del Norte Health Foundation seeks to make physical activity the easy choice for people in our community. We are currently working with El Paso Water and City of El Paso to build a recreational trail on the Playa Drain between Ascarate Park and Riverside High School as well as planning a larger county-wide trail to support physical activity. Safe trails connected to neighborhoods and meaningful destinations can play an important role in increasing physical activity.
Increasing availability of healthy foods. It’s one thing to know how to eat healthy or even be able to prepare a healthy meal, but low availability of affordable nutritious food makes eating healthy difficult. A recent study on access to healthy foods conducted by the Institute for Healthy Living with support from the Health Foundation identified poor availability to healthy food in some parts of the Paso del Norte region. Such work is an early step in making nutritious food accessible for all residents.
Adopting and enforcing effective policies. Another way to support healthy lifestyles is adoption and enforcement of effective policies. Years ago, the City of El Paso passed a clean indoor air ordinance and more recently strengthened the ordinance to support smoke-free parks and other outdoor spaces. Smoke-free environments protect residents from the carcinogens in secondhand smoke, but also support smokers who want to quit. The result has been a measurable decrease in smoking rates in El Paso, and now a correlating decrease in the incidence of lung cancer. Policy promotion is especially effective when rooted in community values, informed by data and supported by community partnerships. The Paso del Norte Health Foundation has joined with many different organizations like UTEP, United Way, YMCA, and others, to build coalitions and facilitate policy agendas informed by data. Among many other groups, the El Paso Food Policy council and the BOOST Network of afterschool program providers are working to promote health enhancing policies.
By working together to address complex health behaviors, change can take place and open opportunities for some to fulfill yearly resolutions.
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