Yes! This column will appear after I return, as I am currently part of a delegation from Vermont attending a conference in the Netherlands on how communities (and entire countries!) are improving their population health by investing in health promotion and disease prevention. This conference focused on reducing childhood obesity, is hosted by the EPODE International Network, whose best-practice methodology is used by these successfully communities. As part of our work to align RiseVT with that methodology, we have special intensive time here with colleagues from the JOGG movement in the Netherlands (Amsterdam and Zwolle) and from the Viasano movement in Belgium who have each seen measurable improvements in health. Their approach, their efforts, and their results are inspiring.
Their work is also familiar, as RiseVT aligns beautifully with the best practices we are seeing in action. It is good to see the similarities and we can learn from them to refine how we do what we do to make our efforts even more sustainable. That is crucial, as the work must be sustained over time to have a lasting impact. Internationally recognized keys to preventing childhood obesity and elevating population health through prevention? The strategies are simple. We all need to drink more water, eat our fruits and vegetables, have restful sleep, and play more! Making the healthy choice the easy choice. These are familiar approaches that RiseVT amplifies and facilitates as we work with local individuals, families, schools, businesses, and municipalities on embracing healthier lifestyles. We are on the right track!
The EPODE methodology gives us a path towards the sustainability of RiseVT and the potential expansion of it across the state to all Vermonters. It calls on us to engage our political leaders in this effort even more closely, to ensure we are scientifically evaluating our work so we can demonstrate meaningful results, to broaden our communications in a strategic way to have an even greater impact, and to establish more public-private partnerships to make the work sustainable. A colleague from Zwolle, whose city has measurably reduced obesity in their children, said “Our community health is a collective responsibility.” That’s the Vermont spirit of working together. No one organization or sector can shift population health alone. That improvement is a culture shift which involves all of us, doing what we each can, as part of a collective effort to enjoy healthier lifestyles, improved quality of life, and reduced healthcare costs where we live, work, eat, and play.
We have numerous sectors represented on the delegation to see how we can best work together to advance RiseVT to make an even bigger difference. Public Health is here, represented by Judy Ashley, our District Director of the Vermont Department of Health with whom I co-chair the local Community Committee on Healthy Lifestyles that oversees RiseVT. The medical professionals are here, represented by Elisabeth Fontaine, M.D., the Medical Director of RiseVT. My NMC colleague Jonathan Billings and I are representing community hospitals and are joined by Eileen Whalen, the President and Chief Operating Officer of UVM Medical Center, Vermont’s tertiary care hospital. Education is represented through Winton Goodrich, the Superintendent of Schools of Franklin Northwest. We are also pleased to have Aly Richards, the Chief Executive Officer of The Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children, a major philanthropic organization in Vermont. This is a collaborative effort to improve health.
We have seen firsthand, and talked to colleagues from, communities who have truly embraced health as part of everything they do. Their efforts have evolved from being a program to simply part of how the community goes about doing everything it does. “How can we make the healthy choice the easy choice” is considered in each decision. Health is considered when looking at space planning and development – and they invest easily accessible infrastructure like paths, parks and playgrounds for use by all ages. They take healthier approaches to advertising and merchandizing, so children are not targeted with the promotion of unhealthy choices and people of all ages and income levels have easy access to healthy foods. Healthy approaches are embedded in their school curriculums and in their community activities. The local governments, businesses, schools, and organizations share the effort, as it has become a natural part of how they live. In turn, they are reducing and preventing obesity in their children. That is our future: bringing everyone together and making healthy lifestyles the norm and ensuring the healthy choice is always the easy choice.
I am proud that our corner of Vermont is a leader in this initiative and thankful for this opportunity to learn alongside partners who care deeply about our community. We established RiseVT to create a movement across our community to connect all the great efforts taking place to promote wellbeing and to encourage healthy choice as the easy option for adults and children. Here’s to a fresh start for all of us by starting today to drink more water. In the spirit of a RiseVT.
JILL BERRY BOWEN,
NMC’s Chief Executive Officer