Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows residents don’t get as much exercise compared to the rest of B.C.
But they eat a bit better, smoke a bit less and are just a bit trimmer than the average person in the province.
The data comes from a health practices report from Fraser Health from 2007-08, one of the pieces of information that will be used to motivate those involved in a Healthier Community plan about to get underway.
Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Katzie First Nation have been invited to join with the provincial agency and make a strategy get every body living cleaner – and move the focus from treating sickness to preventing it in the first place.
“The District of Maple Ridge has been doing an amazing amount of work there,” said Jami Brown, leader for Healthier Communities with Fraser Health.
In particular, Maple Ridge has worked on improving food security and encouraging active living, she said Wednesday.
Healthier Communities is a partnership between the local governments and the health authority. Through coordination and communication about each other’s efforts, and creating a plan with measurable results, it’s hoped to maximize or improve local living habits.
Fraser Health’s Dr. Larry Gustafson and executive director Val Spurrell made a pitch on the topic to Maple Ridge council Monday.
The program already is underway in Surrey and both Langley city and township.
Brown said trying to encourage healthy living through policies and rules isn’t new to Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows.
“What’s new about this is we’re saying we want to work alongside you.”
Coordination between local and provincial agencies could produce better results.
“For us, it’s about creating really strong relationships.”
Finding a community-based approach is the only way to deal with chronic diseases, she added.
To kick off the project, which will see the writing of a community action plan, council looked at a snapshot of the local health area, comprised of Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Katzie First Nation.
It found that of a total population of 95,000, the area had higher rates of diabetes, asthma, breathing problems, heart disease and hypertension, compared to the B.C. average.
Cancer and heart disease cause more than half (53 per cent) of the deaths in the area.
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows’s population also has a smoking rate 18 per cent, while provincewide it’s only 17 per cent.
But only 53 per cent of residents are physically active, compared to 58 per cent provincewide.
The percentage of overweight people in both areas is about the same, 44 per cent.
Forty-five per cent of people in the local area say they eat five or more servings of fruits and veggies while it’s 43.4 per cent provincewide.
Cities can improve those stats by passing anti-smoking bylaws, encouraging walkable communities as well as ensuring they have healthy policies for their workers.
A later part of the process involves a scorecard in which Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows can be given percentage marks based on policies that encourage healthy food policies, bylaws that restrict fast food restaurants from opening near schools, and encouraging people to keep active.
Some of those steps could include bylaws that keep fast food places or convenience stores from opening within 600 metres of a secondary or middle school.
“We’re just saying there’s an amazing opportunity to kind of put some pieces together.”
She agreed that kids today, stuck indoors on video and TV screens, may not live as long as their parents because of the unhealthy living habits.
“A lot of people have been screaming for years, healthy communities come through design,” said Coun. Craig Speirs.
He said it’s known that heavily urbanized communities produce kids who are less obese than their suburban counterparts.
To get people walking, close off main street to cars
Open main street to people, close it to cars, and get people walking more.
It works elsewhere so why not in Maple Ridge? asked Coun. Linda King at Monday’s meeting.
“It will take a lot of courage to do that but … our ultimate goal should be to convert the street to a pedestrian-oriented community.
“Everywhere it’s been done in the world, it’s been very successful and I don’t see why we can’t do that in Maple Ridge.
“We’ve done a lot of good work here but the car still rules here. Most of our children are still driven to school.”
But whether we like it or not, we still have an auto-oriented community, said Coun. Judy Dueck. People still need their cars to get to work, mostly outside of Maple Ridge, she added.
“It’s fun to walk but it’s not fun to walk with 12 bags of groceries,” added Coun. Cheryl Ashlie, saying people have to be realistic.
King said later that research has shown that making some streets pedestrian only boosts sales in stores along that street.
The idea may be too much too soon for businesses along 224th Street, said Ineke Boekhorst, executive-director with the Downtown Maple Ridge Business Improvement Association.
“I think it would be fantastic for the future. At this time, there would be quite a bit of opposition.
“We are just not there yet.”
It’s even difficult for festival organizers to close 224th Street briefly between Lougheed Highway and Dewdney Trunk Road for their events.
“Our society is just too much chained to the car still. It’s just too hard to close down the core to traffic.” She would support a survey on the idea though, if council wanted to pursue it.
King said more specific ideas may come from the social planning advisory committee or the parks and rec commission which will comment on the healthier community plan.