BLOOMINGTON – For the first time since 1969, the White House on Sept. 28 hosts the Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, where the Biden-Harris Administration will announce strategies to meet the goals of ending hunger and reducing diet-related disease by increasing healthy eating and physical activity in the U.S. by 2030.
The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), on behalf of its members including Bloomington Parks and Recreation, contributed recommendations on how park and recreation agencies can contribute to the ambitious goal by increasing access to healthy, local, nutritious food and by providing access to opportunities for physical activity.
According to the United Way of Monroe County, Indiana’s Service Community Assessment of Needs (SCAN) data for 2020, access to an adequate food supply is a problem for some individuals and families. Indiana ranks 45th in the country for its child food insecurity rate; 28% of K-12 students in Monroe County receive free lunch at public schools, while an additional 6% receive reduced-fee lunches. More than 3,500 households in Monroe County—and more than 7,000 individuals—receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
In addition, the SCAN report revealed the adult obesity rate in Monroe County is 23%, and 17% of adults reported themselves to be in poor or fair health. According to the Bloomington Health Foundation, the most recent Monroe County Health Department – Community Health Needs Assessment identifies chronic disease management as one of our community’s most pressing health needs.
Bloomington Parks and Recreation is an ongoing stakeholder and service provider in the public health arena. In 2002, The department was selected as an NRPA “Hearts N’ Parks” magnet center and was one of the first parks departments in the country to use its existing facilities and programs to encourage heart-healthy lifestyles with the goal of reducing the growing trend of obesity and risk of coronary heart disease.
Get Onboard Active Living (G.O.A.L.), launched in 2010 with community partners including IU Health, Monroe County Community Schools, and the YMCA, continues to provide families education and support on nutrition, fitness, and behavioral habits to help the entire family unit make positive, lifelong changes for active lifestyles. Thirty-two cohorts have participated in the GOAL program since its inception.
The Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market began accepting what was then known as “food stamps” in 2007 and was the first farmers’ market in Indiana to do so. The name of the federal “food stamps” program changed to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, in 2008. In 2013 the Market began Double Market Bucks, a grant through the Bloomington Parks Foundation that allows SNAP participants to double the value of their SNAP dollars to buy fresh food from local farmers at the Market. Since it was enacted, the Double Market Bucks program has increased food security in Bloomington, strengthened the local food economy, promoted healthy lifestyles among SNAP customers, and increased access to nutritious foods available at the Farmers’ Market even as decreased unemployment and changing policies have decreased the number of individuals eligible for SNAP benefits in Indiana.
The Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market furthered its mission to support access to nutrition for vulnerable populations by using a grant awarded in 2020 from the Bloomington Health Foundation to triple Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program benefits for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) participants, and for seniors via the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program vouchers offered through the Area 10 Agency on Aging.
In addition to improving access to healthy food, the Farmers’ Market is committed to educating residents about what “local food” truly means. The Market hosted public tours that visited Market vendors’ farms, allowing people a firsthand look at where meat, eggs, produce and even products like maple syrup and honey come from and how each is made or produced. Free “tasting” events at the Market give all visitors the opportunity to try dozens of heirloom varieties of apples and tomatoes grown in south-central Indiana, expanding the palates and food knowledge of every one who partakes.
Grants and financial support to the Banneker Community Center created opportunities for Parks and Recreation to provide food and nutrition education resources to Bloomington families. A “Parks as Community Nutrition Hubs: Expanding Access to Healthy Food” grant from the NRPA and the Walmart Foundation gave Banneker $80,000 to expand nutrition services, provide access to affordable, healthy food, and reduce food insecurity. Banneker has served as an Indiana Summer Food Service Program site for more than 15 years.
The Community Nutrition Hubs grant award came on the heels of a $199,600 Regional Opportunity Initiatives, Inc. grant that allowed Banneker to completely renovate its kitchen space into a commercial kitchen.
Parks and Recreation take its commitment to access to healthy food to the next level by offering resources that help people grow their own food. The Community Gardening program takes place in three different sites around the city, where rental plots are available to grow herbs, berries, flowers, and vegetables. Renters are provided with communal tools and basic supplies like water and compost to be used in direct food production. Classes offer additional training in seed starting and food preservation, while a scholarship program offers financial aid for plot rental assistance.
Nutritious food is just one part of a healthy lifestyle; physical activity has been the hallmark of Parks and Recreation facilities and programs since the first city park was dedicated in 1924. Places to walk and bike, play on a playground, or recline in the shade of a tree are all available for free at 33 different park properties and over the city’s 35 miles of paved and natural surface trails. The city continues to invest in tools for healthy lifestyles by adding outdoor fitness stations along the B-Line Trail, and in Butler Park, Bryan Park, Winslow Sports Complex, and Switchyard Park. Fitness equipment is designed to be used by people of all abilities and is free to use during each park’s hours of operation.
“This national conference and conversation are critical to the health and well-being of individuals in every community, said Parks and Recreation Administrator Paula McDevitt. “Bloomington Parks and Recreation has the infrastructure, community health partners, programs, and services to positively impact public health through physical activity and access to healthy food.”
Parks and Recreation places an emphasis on group movement, offering a large variety of affordable fitness programs. Since 2020, drop-in fitness classes at Switchyard Park have provided outdoor experiences for ZUMBA, Run Club, Yoga, and more. The Bloomington Walking Club began in 2013 as a free program in partnership with IU Health Bloomington Community Health, the YMCA, and, in later years, Purdue Extension-Monroe County. The Twin Lakes Recreation Center, full-service sports, fitness, and recreation facility purchased by the city in 2009 continue to offer group fitness classes, including classes specifically designed for the physical activity needs of people over age 65.
A virtual physical activity program, dubbed “Winter Wander”, was first offered in 2020. Winter Wander encouraged traditional physical activity while highlighting everyday, functional activities such as shoveling snow or walking the dog as to count toward physical activity goals.
Beginning healthy habits at a young age gives children greater chances for developing lifelong healthy habits. Banneker Community Center’s Banneker Camp, and the department’s Kid City summer camps, offer health and wellness activities that include movement and nutrition. Banneker Community Center received a Youth Adolescent Physical Activity (YAPA) grant from the Indiana State Department of Health for three consecutive years (2017-2019). The YAPA grants funded the “Passport to Play” program that incentivized young community members to explore parks and activities and to expand Yoga Club and Fit Club from summer camp programs to year-round offerings at the department’s after-school program. The most recent YAPA grant is being used to run the “All Kids Swim” program in partnership with the Indiana University Outdoor Pool in 2022 and again in 2023. “All Kids Swim” provides summer Banneker Camp participants free swimming lessons, swimsuits, towels, backpacks, and goggles.
Bloomington residents can take action to lead healthy, active lifestyles:
- Stop smoking. IU Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Coalition has resources available to help tobacco users reduce or eliminate smoking.
- Volunteer at local food banks, and donate nutritious foods.
- Purchase food from local vendors to support local farmers.
- Grow a garden, either on private property or in a community garden.
- Set aside time for family meals and physical activities.
- “Eat the rainbow” – or, a variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Schedule regular visits with your primary care physician.
- Participate in the Community Health Improvement Plan through the Monroe County Health Department.
To learn more and join in taking bold action to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases and disparities, visit whitehouse.gov/hungerhealthconference.