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two women painting roundabout for Thriving Communities

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. — Live Well Alabama Thriving Communities, formerly known as ALProHealth, will continue its work in Alabama through a five-year, $4.4 million grant. By improving access to healthier foods and providing opportunities for safe and convenient physical activity, community coalitions will be empowered to lead the charge for change in their communities.

The grant is provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of its High Obesity Program (HOP). CDC funds land-grant universities to work through cooperative Extension programs in counties where the adult obesity rate exceeds 40%.

Obesity is a contributing factor to some of the leading causes of death, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. In Alabama, the statewide adult obesity rate is nearly 40%. This is the third highest rate in the United States, according to the CDC. County obesity rates in the state range from 32.9% to 50.5%. Thirty-six of Alabama’s 67 counties have an adult obesity rate of greater than 40%.

Live Well Alabama Thriving Communities

County Extension offices, with guidance from community coalitions, deliver evidence-based activities that increase access to healthier foods or increase opportunities for safe and accessible physical activity through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University.

Thriving Communities will address health disparities related to poor nutrition, physical activity and obesity in 12 Alabama counties. Those counties include Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Escambia, Etowah, Greene, Hale, Marengo, Perry, Russell, Sumter and Wilcox.

Sondra Parmer, assistant director for federal nutrition programs at Alabama Extension, said obesity is a complex disease that stems from multiple personal and environmental factors.

“Environmental factors contribute to obesity through limiting healthy food choices and opportunities for physical activity,” Parmer said. “Approximately 25% of Alabama residents live in what is known as a food desert, where low incomes and limited access to grocery stores result in a lack of access to healthy, affordable foods.”

Ruth Brock, Thriving Communities program manager at Alabama Extension, said physical inactivity rates are inflated in counties with higher obesity rates.

“Safe, accessible physical activity can be increased by addressing pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure through intentional and inclusive community design to improve the safety of walking and biking — even in small areas, such as nearby a school, neighborhood or town square,” Brock said.

Past Success and Partnerships

Starting in October, Thriving Communities will begin its third round of HOP funding from the CDC. During the past nine years, Thriving Communities has partnered with coalitions of key stakeholders and community members in each of its funded counties to implement projects to overcome nutrition or physical activity barriers.

The Auburn University PARTNER Program produces many of these projects. Jeffrey LaMondia, an Auburn civil and environmental engineering professor and Thriving Communities team member, led the development of this community-driven program. PARTNER program provides a step-by-step process for communities to learn about active transportation benefits, identify walking and bicycling improvements, recognize needs or concerns and pursue funding to help implement improvements.

Barbour County

In a partnership with the Eufaula Piggly Wiggly, Thriving Communities funding purchased a cooler and signage to provide easy access to healthier foods. The cooler contains accessible, healthy food choices and grab-and-go ingredients for many Live Well Alabama recipes. Customers can find delicious recipes and stock up on healthy food options in one place.

Marengo County

In Linden, Thriving Communities supported the community coalition’s plans to create walkable and bikeable pathways to connect residents to everyday destinations. Thriving Communities contracted Alta Planning and Design to outline feasible projects within Linden. From those suggestions, Linden created safer crosswalks and a bicycle lane on a main road near an elementary school and installed additional pedestrian lighting to make walking in the evening safer.

Also in Linden, Thriving Communities supported a community-driven project to revitalize a vacant lot downtown into a gathering spot for the community. Known as The Terrace, the space changed throughout the past year from a location with crumbling walls and overgrown grass to a place where the community can gather, hold school functions and host community events. The space is in the center of the downtown community and acts as a gateway to exploring Linden on foot, therefore increasing community physical activity.

Perry County 

In Marion, the Thriving Communities coalition leveraged relationships with the City of Marion, Alabama Department of Transportation and Main Street Marion to reduce the number of lanes on Highway 14 coming into town from four to three. This reduction allows the city to add bike lanes to the roadway and improves the safety of pedestrians walking along and crossing the newly resurfaced road. The downtown square is also going through renovations with the addition of mid-block pedestrian crossings and curb extensions to increase the visibility of pedestrians at street corner crossings.

Additionally, the town is complementing active transportation projects with beautification and placemaking efforts by upgrading a small pocket park. The new park will add outdoor seating for nearby restaurants, new landscaping, a stage for entertainment and a new place for the community to gather.

More Information

The PARTNER Program is publicly available online with resources and tools available for anyone to download to get started on planning for transportation improvements in their own communities.

For more information about Thriving Communities, contact Brock at rlw0031@aces.edu or visit www.aces.edu.