Dover to receive road map to becoming healthier

DOVER – The Delaware Chapter of the American Planning Association is trying to get Dover and Kent County – home of the majority of obese adults in the state – off the couch and snack foods and into better shape.

With the city of Dover’s Comprehensive Plan scheduled for an update in the next year and Kent County’s update in the next couple of years, the planning association has been busy developing a new health roadmap through a Plan4Health grant it received from the American Planning Association.

The Delaware Chapter of the American Planning Association has been seeking input this week from the Dover community regarding what can be done to make the city a more active and healthy environment.

Delaware Plan4Health initiative representatives held meetings in Dover on Monday and Tuesday and have another planned this morning from 10 a.m. until noon at the Bayard Plaza Community Room at 206 West Loockerman Street.

Dover Health Planning Week will come to a close when Plan4Health makes its final project presentation from 5:30 until 7:30 p.m. this evening at Bayard Plaza. Light dinner and refreshments will be provided.

Kent County will have its own community meetings July 25-27 at times and a location to be determined.

Michelle Eichinger, lead consultant of Designing4Health, said the meetings in Dover have been productive.

“The interest has been very promising,” she said. “Prior to these meetings, we conducted a public survey with a sampling of 500 residents in Dover and the rest of Kent County.

“In our first public meeting, many residents had a chance to participate in an activity that allowed them to identify opportunities for their community. These include park features, community gardens, farmers’ markets accepting EBT, safe pedestrian crossings, produce carts, etc.”

All of the input will help the Delaware Chapter of the American Planning Association, along with the Delaware Coalition for Healthy Eating and Active Living, have a say in future Comprehensive Plan updates for both Dover and Kent County.

“The goal of our project is to integrate health with a focus on equity in the planning process for [Dover’s] Comprehensive Plan update,” Ms. Eichinger said. “These meetings allow for planners and other community organizations to review the city and prioritize areas to address healthy living, focusing on healthy food access and active living.”

It appears to be a much-needed project considering the obesity rate in Delaware has doubled since 1990 and children in Kent County are the most overweight in Delaware, according to Delaware Plan4Health officials.

Kent County, the smallest county in Delaware, has a population of 172,000, which has increased 36 percent since the year 2000. It has the highest adult obesity rate (34.1 percent) out of all three counties in the state.

It doesn’t help that Kent County’s 85.8 miles of on-and-off road trails are the fewest per county in the state. New Castle County has 382 miles of trails and Sussex County has 180 trail miles.

There are other factors that go into poor health besides just the lack of areas in which to exercise.

Nearly 13 percent of Kent County residents are living below the Federal Poverty Line and the educational attainment level and rates of age-adjusted death from chronic disease and adult inactivity are worse when compared to the rest of the state.

“Kent County experiences the same influences on obesity as the rest of the country,” said Tim Gibbs, executive director of the Delaware Academy of Medicine and the Delaware Public Health Association. “There is overeating, lack of exercise, genetics, the environment within which we work, live and play, related health conditions, mental health/emotional factors, smoking, age, lack of sleep and understanding the importance of health/wellness.”

Tonight’s Delaware Plan4Health meeting at the Bayard Plaza will be the big one for Dover. It’s the one that will begin to formulate a future plan for the city.

“The meeting [tonight] will be the presentation that compiles our planning brainstorming with the planners and community organizations, our walking tour, and the feedback from the community,” Ms. Eichenger said. “The presentation will also include a synopsis from our community survey and the review of maps addressing priority areas for healthy food environment, sidewalks and bicycle plans, and parks and open space.

“Following this presentation, we will take all this information in drafting guidance for the city of Dover for integrating health in the Comprehensive Plan update.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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