In response to a growing health crisis, the mayor of Huntington decided to engage citizens to create a healthier city. The city worked with residents to develop initiatives that fostered healthy choices and reduced the obesity rate.
In 2008, Huntington was in the midst of a health crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave the City of Huntington the lowest health rating of any metro area in the nation. This was compounded by severe economic distress, with rates of poverty and depression in Huntington exceeding 30 percent. In 2008, Huntington had the distinction of being called “America’s fattest and unhealthiest city” by the Associated Press. After Jamie Oliver depicted residents as unhealthy and unable to change in his television show, Food Revolution, the city reached a tipping point and decided it was time to change the culture and get serious about health.
Huntington developed a “hub-and-spoke” citizen-engagement approach to foster healthy living. The city serves as the hub for community stakeholders, businesses, academic institutions, hospitals, faith-based organizations, and citizens to develop ideas and projects. Activities include targeted publicity about health programs, leadership development, encouraging resident-led outreach, and training residents in community organizing and advocacy. The city has also helped cultivate a variety of citizen-grown initiatives in addition to providing resources and adopting policies to encourage healthy living.
Huntington’s health initiatives have resulted in a variety of outcomes, including the creation of a 36-mile fitness trail, improved waterfront access for residents, a peer-based addiction recovery center, and The Wild Ramp, a citizen-led farmers market that has expanded access to fresh, affordable food. The citywide adult obesity rate dropped from 49 percent in 2008 to 35 percent today. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of city leadership and citizens, Huntington is a far cry from the unhealthy, depressed city it was less than 10 years ago. The mayor’s prioritization of citizen participation in building a healthier city and the partnerships created as a result have formed a foundation for them to face an array of challenges — together.
“Hope isn’t a tactic. It is an outcome and it starts with collaboration.”
– Stephen Williams, Mayor of Huntington