Get Healthy Utah creates a culture of healthy living in schools, workplaces, and communities

UTAH – Get Healthy Utah is a non-profit organization founded in 2015 by former Lt. Governor Greg Bell (who continues to serve as the board chair). The organization aims to expand active living and healthy eating options in Utah. Get Healthy Utah creates a culture of healthy living by working with schools, workplaces, and communities to influence and encourage systematic change. In partnership with Get Health Utah and the Utah League of Cities and Towns, Park City is a Healthy Utah Community, an exemplary city invested in improving community health.

Program coordinator for Get Healthy Utah, Morgan Hadden, explains why increasing overall health is critical to all citizens. “Improving health is a surefire way to improve quality of life,” she said. “Being healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally brings a sense of happiness and contentment that is difficult to find any other way.”

Get Healthy Utah recognizes that for some children, school is the only place where they can engage in safe physical activity and their best access to healthy food. That is why the organization works directly with schools to create long-lasting health solutions. Most recently, the organization used revenue from a grant to improve access to produce. “We received a three-year grant from the Utah Cancer Action Network (UCAN) to help students eat more fruits and vegetables,” Hadden said.

Before the pandemic, Get Healthy Utah focused on helping schools implement Smarter Lunchroom strategies, including a recess-before-lunch policy. Post-pandemic, they shifted focus to aiding schools in filling their shelves with healthy foods. “We pivoted to helping schools stock healthier foods, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, in their emergency food pantries,” Hadden said. “We provided mini-grants to 35 different schools along the Wasatch Front. The schools used the funding to add shelving and refrigerators to their pantries, buy hydroponics stations to grow their own food, partner with local farmers markets to host onsite farmers markets at the school for families in need, etc.”

The organization will continue to focus on health in schools as it expands programming. “We are now working with partners to survey schools and hold focus groups to determine what the greatest health needs are… [We] will use the feedback to determine what our next big project with schools will be,” Hadden said.

Get Healthy Utah also promotes a healthy workplace and encourages companies to invest in the well-being of their employees. “Our big focus with workplaces is to help them offer the National Diabetes Prevention Program (National DPP) to their employees,” Hadden said. “The National DPP is a year-long lifestyle change program taught by a trained lifestyle coach. Participants learn how to eat better, move more, and manage their stress to reverse their prediabetes and prevent it from turning into type 2 diabetes.”

Since one in three adults has prediabetes, which can turn into type 2 diabetes, the National DPP is vital, and Get Healthy Utah walks employers through the process. “We teach workplaces about the program and offer mini-grants to help worksites either start a National DPP class onsite for their employees or refer them to a class taught nearby,” Hadden said.

The Healthy Utah Community program recognizes the critical role communities play in overall health by providing access to opportunities to exercise, eat well, and engage in mental health wellness. “In 2020, Get Healthy Utah partnered with the Utah League of Cities and towns to create the Healthy Utah Community designation program,” Hadden said. “The designation is given to cities and towns that do an exemplary job of improving community health.”

All communities of any size are welcome to apply for the designation. “To qualify, they must submit a letter of commitment from the mayor and city council (showing that they prioritize health), organize a health coalition to oversee improving health in the community, implement evidence-based health strategies, and come up with a 3-year health plan for the community,” Hadden said. “Examples of health strategies that count towards the designation include having a community garden, safe walking, and biking trails, offering mental health resources for community members.”

Image Courtesy of Get Healthy Utah

Park City is one of 33 Utah cities to receive the designation. “Park City is an excellent example of a Healthy Utah Community,” Hadden said. “Active living and healthy eating are part of the community’s culture, and a wide variety of resources are readily available to residents. The trails and opportunities for outdoor recreation are expansive and impressive, and healthy food is easy to find. Park City also makes an effort to ensure that access to healthy living is available to all residents, regardless of income. Many mental, physical, and behavioral health programs are offered at a subsidized rate or are free to the community. This is important because often, poor health outcomes correlate with lower income.”

Hadden highlights Park City as an exemplary Healthy Utah Community. “It’s significant and praiseworthy when communities such as Park City recognize this and work to reduce barriers so that living a healthy lifestyle can be equally available to all residents.”

For folks interested in joining the cause, Hadden recommends searching online for participating causes. “There may be opportunities to spend a weekend helping to clean a trail, or volunteer at a community garden, or help at an after-school program that teaches children about nutrition,” she said. “It is always valuable to communicate with city leaders. If there is an improvement you want to see made, talk to your city council about it. Attend local meetings and advocate for improvements, then be willing to volunteer and be an active part of the solution.”

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