Heading off health issues | SierraSun.com

Heading off health issues

Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunTaber Rodriguez, 4, and Connor Hoyt, 4, monkey around on the jungle gym inside the KidZone Friday.

Long winters and tight budgets are contributing to obesity and other health problems for Truckee-Tahoe families having difficulty affording the exercise and nutrition options available in the region.

Although the area boasts a variety of nonprofit organizations aimed at promoting health and well-being, stakeholders from these agencies felt it is time to consolidate ideas and resources to tackle pressing health issues.

The new coalition ” Truckee Health Challenge 2013 ” will work to address gaps, identify solutions and build a healthier community within the next five years, particularly for low-income families.

“What’s surprising about Truckee is the economic and health disparities,” said Galen El-Askari, program manager for the Nevada County Public Health Department. “We need to bridge these gaps so everyone has access to health and nutrition options.”

The Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee partnered with the Nevada County Public Health Department to unite representatives from different area organizations to “create more programs and focus resources that already exist,” El-Askari said.

The group will focus on the “corridor of poverty” in Truckee, which stretches from the Sunset Inn on Donner Pass Road to the Donner Creek Mobile Home Park off Highway 89, El-Askari said.

“We’re looking at that corridor to see how we can make it more walkable, to identify the barriers and find ways to support them through healthy activities and sustainable food choices,” she said.

While groups like Project MANA, the Nutrition Coalition and the Early Learning Center already have nutrition programs underway, Truckee Health Challenge 2013 partners said it is necessary to map existing efforts in order to decrease duplication of services and maximize effect, El-Askari said.

For example, Project MANA, a hunger relief organization serving the North Tahoe and Truckee, has been working with local elementary schools to supplement existing health curriculums with more nutritional education like the Kids Can Cook program and gardening classes.

“We’re going to continue doing the services we already have to make sure adequate nutrition is available to the entire population, but there is room to grow,” said Kaili Sanchez, program director for Project MANA.

At a March meeting, stakeholders identified health education gaps and areas for growth, particularly at the high school level. A collaboration between Project MANA and the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District was recommended to address food options, develop healthy cooking classes and possibly provide a salad bar, El-Askari said.

Additionally, by creating a coalition between exercise outlets such as the KidZone Museum, the Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District and Sierra Senior Services, Challenge members can evaluate the spaces available and find ways to make them low- or no-cost for disadvantaged families, El-Askari said.

Although the Community Collaborative is a regional partnership covering the North Lake Tahoe and Truckee area, efforts will target Truckee first, but will potentially grow to take on the region, said Stephanie Rogerson, director of the Community Collaborative.

“Kings Beach is much more walkable at this time, and the transportation challenge is unique to Truckee,” Rogerson said. “But we hope this will eventually become a regional opportunity.”

Kings Beach youth also have access to the Boys and Girls Club of North Lake Tahoe, which provides adequate recreational services and nutrition classes relative to that area, Rogerson said.

The next step for Truckee Health Challenge members will be to meet with the town to discuss issues such as keeping walkways plowed during the winter and building more trails and sidewalks along the corridor, El-Askari said.

Building more efficient walkways along the corridor would allow families who lack transportation to access nearby facilities like the KidZone Museum, Rogerson said.

“In the winter, it’s not realistic to assume you can get there safely,” she said.

Because funding is always an issue, El-Askari said the aim is to identify funding sources and shared grants.

“There’s a lot out there from injury prevention funds to air quality funds that could be applied for,” El-Askari said. “The grant proposal to the California Endowment will fund things like walking audits to identify what infrastructure improvements can be made.”

Aside from economic disparities, cultural and language barriers and access to transportation were identified as key reasons for limited involvement in existing fitness and nutrition programs, Rogerson said.

“We are fortunate to have a wide range of mountain activities, and many of our children are healthier than statewide averages,” Rogerson said. “However, many of these activities involve fees for participation and costs around equipment and clothing. This excludes many of our children who cannot afford to participate.”

It’s not just the stakeholders petitioning for change. The Latino community in Truckee has expressed the desire to create a healthy family lifestyle as well, said Adela Gonzalez de Valle, executive director of the Truckee Family Resource Center.

“We have peer educators based in different pockets of the corridor who communicate with the families, and they have definitely gotten that message,” Gonzalez de Valle said. “We live in an outdoor dreamland, but we need to make it accessible to all members of our community.”

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