Forum Explores How to Make Communities Healthier, More Walkable

By: Carrie Stevenson

For Carol Reichbaum, getting people to walk the walk sometimes means finding the right platform to talk the talk.

Reichbaum spoke at the recent Healthy Cities, Healthy Towns forum hosted by The Atlantic in Washington, D.C. The forum drew public health experts and municipal leaders from across the country to address what works when building healthy communities. Reichbaum is the project director at WalkWorks, a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Public Health Practice and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, as well as community-based partners throughout the state.

When it comes to making communities healthier, one of the most crucial steps is making them more walkable.

“WalkWorks is in 14 counties in Pennsylvania,” she explained at the forum, “and we ask our partners in each area to create 1- or 2-mile walking routes with input from their communities. It’s important that they are built in the environment, that they’re accessible and that there are points of interest along each of these routes.”

After identifying and building the routes, “the next step is engaging walking groups, and that’s where we’re really seeing people come together,” Reichbaum said. “We have more people walking than were walking before, and we also are increasing the intensity and the length of walking – so people who may have walked fewer times a week, or not quite as far, are walking more frequently and greater distances.”

To expand on the success of WalkWorks and engage more communities in healthy living initiatives, it comes down to policy.

“It’s a matter of bringing all these different disciplines together and incorporating health,” she said. “I have two county commissions considering resolutions to adopt ‘health in all’ policies. So when they go to address any kind of policy, they consider health as well as whatever the issue is.”

Reichbaum was recently awarded a Walking College fellowship designed to bring 25 advocates across the country together for a four-month training course on strengthening local efforts to improve walkability in their communities.

She expressed hope at the forum that public policy can ultimately drive change and make communities across America healthier.

“Last September, the Surgeon General issued a call to action, ‘Step it Up,’” Reichbaum said. “And in it, he called for walkable communities. He also said that inactivity is an epidemic, and it is. So, I would like to see more momentum around that call to action.”

To learn more about the community-based walking routes and groups in the area, visit the WalkWorks website.