Lynnwood taking steps to fight obesity

  • Tue Jan 5th, 2010 9:14pm

By Katie Murdoch Enterprise editor

LYNNWOOD – While some Snohomish County cities are trimming fat from their budgets, Lynnwood staff is taking a literal approach for healthier residents.

The city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts staff wants to make it very hard for people to not exercise and eat healthier.

In 2009, the city was awarded a $30,000 ACHIEVE (Action Communities for Health, Innovation and Environmental Change) grant to kick-start efforts geared at improving the community’s health. Lynnwood was one of just 10 cities nationwide to receive the funding.

Lynn Sordel, director of the parks department, said competition for the grant was steep but Lynnwood was a strong contender.

“I felt very confident we would be selected,” Sordel said.

In 2007, the Snohomish Health District released the results of a county-wide study called “How Big Are We?” The survey results showed that in 2003, Lynnwood had the third-highest percentage of obese residents at 22.8 percent. North County, which included Marysville, Stanwood, Arlington and Darrington, ranked first with 26.6 percent, followed by East County, which included Snohomish, Monroe, Sultan, Index and Gold Bar.

Sordel said the survey told staff what they already knew — that Lynnwood residents need to lead healthier lifestyles.

Side-effects of obesity, such as being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, are more frequently impacting children when they typically afflicted adults, Sordel said. “Obesity in youth is huge,” he said.

Goals include farmers market

Although obesity receives attention, the focus for Lynnwood staff now includes everyone, regardless of their weight.

“My team recognizes it’s really important for us to be in the lead,” Sordel said.

Two years ago, the Snohomish Health District designated Lynnwood a Healthy Community, helping it plan for the changes it wanted to see. This status gave the city an edge when staff applied for the ACHIEVE grant.

After receiving the grant, staff organized the Lynnwood Community Health Action Response Team with representatives from Stevens Hospital, the Edmonds School District, Community Transit, Edmonds Community College and Senior Services of Snohomish County. The 50-member task force proposed using the grant funding for two projects: studying the feasibility of creating a farmers market and working with the city’s Public Works department to create safer walking routes so more children will walk safely to school.

There have been efforts to organize small-scale farmers markets but they faltered next to established farmers markets in neighboring cities, said Marielle Harrington, Healthy Communities coordinator. Lynnwood can learn from their mistakes, she said.

“We’re looking at the best practices, what worked and not competing with flourishing nearby farmers markets,” she said.

Part of larger plan

The city’s Healthy Community goals also include increasing opportunities for being active, from healthier school snacks to an improved recreation center.

Staff also wants to dispel the misconception that Lynnwood parks are unsafe, Harrington said.

“Our parks are safe,” she said. “But we need to encourage people to use and access them.”

Improvements would be to place trails closer to neighborhoods and add playground equipment to parks.

Sordel said a new recreation center would send the message to the community that the city values quality of life. The community appears on board, as well; a 2006 citizen survey showed 62 percent wanted a new facility, he said.

Additionally, the current facility — which closed for renovations in December — is in disrepair and does not meet disability requirements. “It is literally falling apart,” he said.

Along the way, Harrington and her colleagues are trying to erase the negative connotations associated with the words “fat” and “obesity” to help people feel more comfortable asking for help.

“There’s a tremendous amount of potential,” Harrington said of the city’s efforts. “We have the right ingredients in the community to make this really good.”

Editor Mina Williams contributed to this story.