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Community leaders in Evanston announced today an effort that will help make the healthy choice the easy choice for those who live, work, learn and play in Evanston. A new tool, the Community Healthy Living Index (CHLI) enables community leaders to assess environments at the local and community-wide levels to identify opportunities for physical activity and healthy eating.

Developed by YMCA of the USA with researchers from Stanford University, Harvard University, and St. Louis University in response to the growing health crisis, CHLI incorporates the review of over one hundred existing assessment tools, input from a prestigious advisory task force, a reiterative review process, and pilot testing. Following an assessment, local sites will develop an action plan that will enable them to plan for policy and environmental changes, identify and remove barriers, and expand opportunities for healthy living. CHLI includes assessments and accompanying discussion and improvement planning guides addressing six community settings: afterschool child care programs, early childhood development programs, neighborhoods, community at-large, schools, and work sites.  The Evanston team is specifically focused on child care programs.

“Healthy lifestyles are difficult to maintain without supportive environments. The Community Healthy Living Index provides our community leadership a way to improve the health of our residents and make our community stronger,” said Monique Parsons, COO of the McGaw YMCA. “These assessments will help us address gaps and identify opportunities to implement changes on a scale that will affect a larger number of people than a health promotion program alone could reach.”

YMCAs and other organizations around the country are engaging their communities in creating environments where residents can eat healthier and be more active. CHLI is one of the first tools of its kind to allow leaders to assess multiple sites in a community to understand how they as leaders can advance healthy environments for their residents.

Creating change at the policy level is an explicit goal of CHLI. Research has shown that policy approaches such as providing safe locations for physical activity, offering fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods in schools, and requiring sidewalks and crossing signals in neighborhoods to make them more pedestrian friendly may be especially important in supporting healthy lifestyles because they benefit a greater number of people than programmatic approaches that aim to change individual behavior one person at a time. Here are a few examples:

  • Providing appropriate infrastructure leads to more people biking or walking to local destinations.
  • Neighborhoods must be free from crime or traffic congestion for people to walk outside.
  • Healthy, active children learn more effectively and experience greater academic achievement.
  • Housing located near fresh fruit and vegetable vendors lead to greater consumption.
  • Obesity rates are higher in areas where grocery stores are further away.

“We look forward to working with our local partners to learn how we can make the healthy choice the easy choice for our residents,” said Evonda Thomas, Director of Evanston Health Department.