City of Huntington’s Leadership Models Healthy Behaviors
Walking more, smoking less and eating better. These are a few of the goals the City of Huntington is setting for its residents to build a healthier community. Progress so far has landed the city among the inaugural class of West Virginia Healthy People Healthy Places (WVHPHP) recognized communities.
It starts with modeling these behaviors at the top. Since 2015, the city’s mayor, Steve Williams, has taken more than 80 neighborhood walks to get to know his community better by listening to citizens’ ideas and concerns. These strolls give Mayor Williams a better sense of the lifestyles of Huntington’s residents, and they see him actively engaged in a physical activity simple enough for anyone to copy.
To add to the information Mayor Williams collects on his walks, the Huntington Health Department is now conducting a Community Health Assessment to set priorities for a Community Health Improvement Plan for Cabell County. By setting goals with this plan, the Health Department is confident it can move the needle in helping residents become healthier.
One of the already known concerns is vaping among young people as well as tobacco use in general. The city has employed initiatives to discourage smoking of any kind. In 2019, Mayor Williams became the co-chair of the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Substance Abuse, Prevention and Recovery Services Task Force in recognition of his successful work earlier in the decade in addressing Huntington’s opioid epidemic. The city’s positive track record in reducing addiction is likely to translate into success in eradicating tobacco.
Another focus is healthy eating. Huntington’s Kitchen, a community food counter, offers cooking classes so residents can learn how to make satisfying, nutrient-rich meals in their own homes. Today, the Marshall University Department of Dietetics is closely involved in the operation of the kitchen, which has educated more than 10,000 people through community events, both onsite and through outreach. One of Huntington’s grocers also donates surplus produce to local food banks so that everyone can have better access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
“There is a 5K just about every weekend in Huntington” – Bryan Chambers, communications director for the city
“There is a 5K just about every weekend in Huntington,” says Bryan Chambers, communications director for the city. He also mentions a movement called Greater Huntington Walks, which encourages participants to walk and explore different parts of their city. Each month, new Greater Huntington Walks paths are debuted. Participants are encouraged to walk the paths with their family members, neighbors, and friends. And the City of Huntington is onboard with encouraging walking too; city leaders recently adopted a master plan calling for connectivity between the city’s recreational areas. The city’s health department director and his staff participated in a Walktober event, providing a model for other employers.
All of these efforts – and the help of many partnering agencies at work – resulted in Huntington being awarded WVHPHP Silver status. The city is striving for still greater improvements in the health of its residents and expects to attain Gold status in 2021 or 2022.