Kerri Peterson wanted to be a physician’s assistant (PA) and moved to Omaha, NE for PA school. She didn’t get in, and Omaha has benefited big time. Instead of...
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At a Glance
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With more than 500,000 residents, Omaha easily claims the title of Nebraska’s largest city. During a growth spurt in the 1950s, its middle class left the older eastern end of the city for the developing suburbs to the west. A diverse, largely lower-income population filled the void. Today, this section of Omaha has a median household income that is about half that of households in the rest of the city and surrounding Douglas County. The economic imbalance is even more pronounced for the African-American families concentrated in the northeast neighborhoods and the Latino families who live mostly in the southeast neighborhoods.
While many Omaha residents struggle to eat nutritious food and stay physically active, the city is on the move toward a healthier future. Leading these efforts is Live Well Omaha (LWO), an umbrella group of more than 35 organizations. Along with its lead collaborator, the Douglas County Health Department (DCHD), LWO has built on existing collaborative programs, including an effective social marketing campaign promoting healthy living as an important component of community pride. Other critical partners include Alegent Creighton Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, Wellness Council of the Midlands, Omaha Public Schools and the City of Omaha.
“Omaha has an incredible sense of community pride and quality of life,” project director Anne Meysenburg said. “By making the case that active living and healthy eating play a significant role in the health of children, we can harness that community support for our goals.”
The Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) initiative in Omaha enabled LWO and DCHD to improve access to affordable healthy foods, especially fresh produce, through community gardens, farmers’ markets, grocery stores and vendors participating in the federal WIC program. The partners also broadened Safe Routes to School efforts in Omaha and worked with planners to update the city’s master plan to better integrate healthy development.
- The city approved a new Omaha Master Plan, for which the HKHC partners provided significant input. Specific chapters of the plan added health language, including the Environmental, Urban Design and Transportation elements.
- Safe Routes to School encouragement and training programs were expanded to eight Omaha schools. In addition, volunteers completed a bicycle parking inventory of all Omaha elementary schools. Data gathered will inform how additional resources can be leveraged. Bike racks were installed at nine schools to help facilitate active travel by elementary students. As bicycle parking was added, school principals have updated student handbooks to encourage bicycling to school rather than ban or discourage it.
- The Douglas County Health Department formed and helps sustain the Community Garden Network, comprised of local healthy food advocates who maintain over 60 community gardens.
- The Douglas County Health Department created a successful farmers’ market at Charles Drew Health Center and WIC office. In addition, this coincided with Nebraska’s first USDA-funded WIC Farmers’ Market coupon program, which serves over 3,000 individuals and families each year.
Updated: July 2014